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A microscopic sample of moon dust was sold for $500,000 after NASA confirmed that the particles were part of the first lunar sample, collected by Neil Armstrong. UK-based auction house Bonhams auctioned the moon dust brought back by the Apollo 11 astronauts for $504,375 as part of its Space History Sale in New York on Wednesday. The amount, including the buyer’s premium, however, fell short of Bonhams’ pre-auction estimate that valued it between $800,000 and $1.2 million.

Bonhams Director of Fine Books and Manuscripts Ian Ehling said before opening the bidding at $200,000 that the moon dust presented a unique opportunity to own a piece of the Apollo 11’s contingency sample, verified by NASA.

The hammer fell at $400,000 after seven bids. The winner was not identified.

The sale marks the end of a complicated and convoluted history for the moon dust (in Bonhams picture below) following its arrival on Earth in 1969. The samples, so small that Bonhams could not provide a total weight, citing the size in microns, were found in the seams of a bag used hold the first lunar samples by an astronaut.

A NASA curator used the specks to determine that the pouch had flown on Apollo 11 after it following its sale at a government forfeiture auction in 2015. Following NASA’s refusal to relinquish the bag, the auction winner filed a series of lawsuits that resulted in the bag being ruled as property of the buyer.

Another legal dispute, settled out of court, ended with NASA turning over the test samples after the bag was auctioned off for $1,812,500 in 2017.

Bonhams sold the samples after NASA surrendered them. Independent testing requested by Bonhams found that the moon dust particles were consistent with the contingency lunar sample collected by Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon.

NASA usually maintains that lunar material from the Apollo 11 mission is a national treasure and not for private ownership. It has made certain exceptions for astronaut mementos stained with lunar dust and two international goodwill gifts. The moon rocks presented to astronauts as Ambassador of Exploration awards are samples on loan from NASA.

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Author: Howard Caldwell