Inverness woman’s lunar samples sell for $1.8 million

An Inverness woman’s Apollo 11 moon samples that she bought for $995 from the federal government were sold on her behalf for $1.8 million in a Sotheby’s auction Thursday.

Nancy Lee Carlson obtained the rare lunar artifact during an online U.S. government auction two years ago. It consists of dust collected in a bag by astronaut Neil Armstrong when he became the first person to walk on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission. She did not return messages Thursday seeking comment.

The sale came after Carlson fended off a lawsuit by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which contended the sale occurred by mistake.

The auction was timed to coincide with the anniversary of when the lunar module Eagle landed on the moon July 20, 1969. Sotheby’s called the “Flown Apollo 11 Contingency Lunar Sample Return Outer Decontamination Bag” the highlight of the space exploration auction.

“This bag, however, is much more than just an artifact of space exploration — it is an artifact from humanity’s greatest achievement and the only example of its kind that is available for private ownership when looking at it in the broader context of unique items that had never before been offered at public auction,” Sotheby’s stated.

Led at Sotheby’s New York office, the in-person, telephone and online bidding started at $1.1 million before the final price landed at $1.8 million for the bag emblazoned with “Lunar Sample Return” above a zipper. The white cloth bag measures 12 by 8½ inches.

Sotheby’s did not immediately name the winning bidder. The samples were expected to fetch $2 million to $4 million.

In a previous interview with the Daily Herald, Carlson said she hopes the buyer will treat the moon dust well. She said she’d want the winning bidder to be “somebody who truly appreciates the historic significance of the bag and that the buyer will be able to be a good steward of the bag for generations.”

Carlson sent the bag for study to the Johnson Space Center in Houston and wound up in a court fight after NASA confiscated it. Despite NASA’s contention that the bag was accidentally sold, a federal judge ruled he did not have authority to reverse the transaction and it belonged to Carlson. The samples were returned to her in March, three months after the judge ruled.

As part of the auction catalog description, Sotheby’s included a transcript of Armstrong and astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the moon. The astronauts’ chatter pertained to the collection procedure, according to the Apollo 11 technical air-to-ground transcript used by the auction house.

Observing from the lunar module, Aldrin said: “Okay. The contingency sample is down and it’s. … Looks like it’s a little difficult to dig through the initial crust.”

Some of the auction proceeds are expected to be directed charities including Bay Cliff Health Camp and the Immune Deficiency Foundation, according to Sotheby’s.

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