NASA: Give us back our moon dust and cockroaches

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BOSTON – NASA wants its moon dust and cockroaches back.

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The space agency has asked Boston-based RR Auction to suspend the sale of lunar dust collected during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, which was subsequently fed to cockroaches during an experiment to determine whether lunar rock contains any pathogens that pose a threat to person. earthly life.

The material, according to a NASA lawyer in a letter to the auctioneer, still belongs to the federal government.

Material from the experiment, including a vial of roughly 40 milligrams of moon dust and three cockroach corpses, was expected to sell for at least $400,000 but was pulled from the auction, RR said on Thursday.

“All Apollo samples, as listed in this collection of items, belong to NASA, and no person, university, or other organization has ever been given permission to keep them after being analyzed, destroyed, or otherwise used for any purpose, especially for sale or individual use. display,” NASA said in a June 15 letter.

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It went on to say, “We request that you no longer facilitate the sale of any and all items containing the Apollo 11 lunar soil experiment (cockroaches, slides and post-destruction samples) by immediately halting the bidding process,” NASA wrote. .

In another letter dated June 22, a NASA lawyer asked RR Auction to work with the current owner of the material to return it to the federal government.

The Apollo 11 mission delivered more than 47 pounds (21.3 kg) of moon rock to Earth. Some were fed to insects, fish and other small creatures to see if it would kill them.

The cockroaches, fed on moon dust, were taken to the University of Minnesota, where entomologist Marion Brooks dissected and studied them.

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“I didn’t find any signs of infectious agents,” Brooks, who died in 2007, told the Minneapolis Tribune in October 1969. According to the article, she found no evidence that the lunar material was toxic or caused any other negative effects on insects.

But the moon rock and cockroaches were never returned to NASA, instead they were put on display at Brooks’ house. Her daughter sold them in 2010 and they are now up for sale again by a consignor named R.R. did not reveal.

It’s not uncommon for a third party to lay claim to what’s up for auction, according to Mark Zaid, an attorney for RR Auction.

“NASA has a history of dealing with issues related to early space programs,” although they were inconsistent on this, Zaid said. By its own admission, NASA admitted in one of its letters that it was unaware of a previous auction of cockroach experiment items.

“We’ve worked with NASA before and have always cooperated with the US government when they made claims on objects,” Zaid said. “At the end of the day, we want to act properly and legally.”

RR Auction is holding the lot for now, he said, but ultimately the shipper has to work things out with NASA.

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