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Auction winner gets to keep her moon rock bag after court battle with NASA

Gathering Moon Rock (Apollo 11)
It seems that Nancy Carlson of Inverness, Illinois spent $995 to buy a small, rather innocuous looking “lunar sample return bag” at an auction held by the U.S. Marshals Service. No problem there, right? Go shopping, place the winning bid, pay the amount, have a nice day. Ah, but there’s more to the story than meets the eye.

Houston, we do indeed have a problem.

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According to the website, the bag came to be at the auction after it was “forfeited along with other artifacts found in the home of Max Ary, a former curator convicted in 2006 of stealing and selling space artifacts that belonged to the Cosmosphere space museum in Hutchinson, Kansas.” Ary spent two years in prison and was fined $132,000.

The story on collectSPACE also notes that the bag’s history “was only discovered after Carlson sent the artifact to NASA to be tested for the presence of moon dust.” NASA checked it out and concluded that there was lunar evidence present. The space agency seized the item and gave the Department of Justice a call. In the now-resolved court case, the government maintained that due to a mix-up, the lunar sample bag was not properly identified as coming from the historic Apollo 11 flight.

Had it been marked correctly, the lunar sample bag wouldn’t have ended up on an auction block. However, in his ruling this week, Judge J. Thomas Marten said Carlson was “a good faith purchaser, in a sale conducted according to law.” Basically, she bought what was made available to her at a legally conducted auction.

KMBC News notes that Carlson knew the bag came from a moon flight — she just didn’t know it came from the one that first put men on the moon. She now has the title to the bag but must file a motion in the U.S. District Court for Texas to get it back from the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston.