Bag Of Apollo 11 Moon Dust Lands $1.8M, After Once Selling For Just $995

By Stephen Gossett in News on Jul 20, 2017 10:26PM

Photo via Sotheby's / Twitter

That's one small initial cost payment, one giant leap of a return at auction.

When the bag used by none other than Neil Armstrong to collect lunar rocks during the pretty-big-deal Apollo 11 mission sold at auction in 2015, it went for just $995, thanks to a boneheaded labeling error. When the eagle-eyed Chicagoland native who took advantage of the blunder to score the historic bag of moon dust sold it herself, through auction at Sotheby's on Thursday, it went for, well, considerably more: after the auction house's cut, $1.5 million.

The new owners were not named on Thursday.

The latest return was actually less than what was projected, between $2 million and $4 million. But it nonetheless represented an interstellar victory for Nancy Carlson, who bought the moon-dust bag for less than a grand, over NASA—whose previous, unsuccessful attempts to claim it away from Carlson were just one chapter in a cosmically tangled saga.

As Gothamist unpacked back in May when the Sotheby's auction was first announced, the bag somehow ended up in the hands of one Max Ary, a onetime director of the space museum Cosmosphere, in Kansas. But after some run-ins with the law (he sold space artifacts that belonged to the museum, and subsequently did time for theft, fraud and money laundering, according to NPR) the lunar bag fell to federal agents in 2003.

It was entirely possible that the bag was already mislabeled at that point—since Ary wasn't exactly the most rigorous record-keeper—which may explain why, when the lunar bag then went up for auction in 2015, US Marshals failed to included any marker that tied it to Apollo 11—and Carlson scored the deal of the century.

She then sent the pouch to the Johnson Space Center, in Houston, which confirmed, yep, moon dust and, yep, from the first manned lunar landing. No small discovery, and Carlson had to sue just to get the bag returned, after NASA tried to keep it for public display.

But the bag was clearly hers—and now so is a heavenly jackpot.

Carlson will give a portion of the sale to charity and establish a scholarship for speech-pathology students at her alma mater, Northern Michigan University, according to Sotheby's.