The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NAA) has asked RR Auction, a Boston-based company, to stop selling moon dust collected during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, which was later fed to cockroaches during an experiment to see if the lunar rock contained any type of pathogen that posed a threat to terrestrial life.
According to a NASA lawyer in a letter to the auctioneer, the material remains relevant to the federal government.
The material from the experiment, including a vial with about 40 milligrams of moon dust and three cockroach carcases, was expected to fetch at least $400,000 (nearly Rs. 3 crore), but was removed from the auction block, according to RR on Thursday.
The majority of Apollo samples, as detailed in this collection of items, belong to NASA and no person, university, or other entity has ever been granted permission to keep them after analysis, destruction, or other use for any purpose, either for sale or individual display, according to NASA''s letter dated June 15.
It continued: After a few weeks, NASA requesting that you continue selling any or all items that contain the Apollo 11 lunar sol experiment (cockroaches, slides, and post-destructive testing specimen) without prior authorization.
In another letter from June 22, a NASAs lawyer asked RR Auction to work with the actual owner of the material to return it to the federal government.
A mission carrying over 47 pounds (21.3 kilograms) of lunar rock has returned to Earth, some of them being fed to insects, fish, and other tiny creatures to see if it will kill them.
The cockroaches that were fed moon dust were brought to the University of Minnesota, where entomologist Marion Brooks was dissected and examined them.
Brooks, who died in 2007, told the Minneapolis Tribune in an October 1969 story. She found no evidence that the moon material was harmful or caused any other harmful effects in the insects, according to the article.
The moon rock and the cockroaches were never returned to NASA, but they were then displayed at Brooks'' home. In 2010, her daughter sold them, and now they are for sale again by a consignor who RR did not disclose.
According to Mark Zaid, an attorney for RR Auction, it''s not unusual for a third party to claim something that is being auctioned.
According to Zaid, NASA has a track record of pursuing items related to the early space programs, although they have been inconsistent in doing so. In one letter, NASA admitted in its own letter that it did not know about the previous auction of the cockroach experiment items.
According to Zaid, we have worked with NASA previously and have always worked with the US government when it comes to asserting claims. At the end of the day, we want to act correct and legally.
For the time being, RR Auction is holding off, but let''s assume that it''s up to the consignor to work with NASA, according to the statement.