Judge rules Illinois woman legal owner of Apollo 11 moon rock bag

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Dec 30, 2016, 1:12 AM EST (Updated)

An Illinois woman is now the legal owner of a rare moon rock sample bag from Apollo 11 that was accidentally auctioned off by the U.S. Marshals Service in Texas back in February of 2015.  In a lawsuit settled on Dec. 14, the government was attempting to reverse the auction transaction and regain sole possession of the historic item but lost in the judge's ultimate ruling.   

Judge J. Thomas Marten of the U.S. District Court for Kansas determined that Nancy Carlson of Inverness, Ill., had obtained the title to the collection sack as "a good faith purchaser, in a sale conducted according to law."  Carlson bought the lunar bag for $995 at a Texas auction run by the U.S. Marshals Service and had been part of a lot seized from the home of Max Ary, a convicted thief and former curator of the Cosmosphere Space Museum in Hutchinson, Kansas.  Ary spent two years in the slammer and was ordered to repay over $132, 000 for stolen museum items that were later resold.  Strangely enough, Ary is currently the director of the Stafford Air & Space Museum in Oklahoma.

The pale white, zip-up pouch is marked with the words "Lunar Sample Return" and was utilized by the Apollo 11 mission astronauts as an outer decontamination bag for a sample of moon rocks collected on July 20, 1969, at the Eagle landing site.

"In a nutshell, the government alleges that due to a mix up in inventory lists and item numbers, the lunar sample bag that was the subject of the April 2014 forfeiture order was mistakenly thought to be a different bag," Marten explained in his official summary of the case. "It alleges that no one, including the United States, realized at the time of forfeiture that this bag was used on Apollo 11. [The U.S. government] further alleges that NASA was the owner of the bag but was not given notice of the forfeiture or the sale of the bag."

The simple sample pouch had been sent to the Johnson Space Center to test for moon dust to verify its authenticity, and once lunar particles were discovered it was declared to be an actual Apollo 11 specimen bag and confiscated.  NASA then brought the matter to the attention of the U.S. Justice Department.  

 "NASA was a victim in this case, not a wrongdoer," Judge Marten further delcared. "The importance and desirability of the [lunar sample] bag stems solely and directly from the efforts of the men and women of NASA, whose amazing technical achievements, skill and courage in landing astronauts on the moon and returning them safely [to Earth] have not been replicated in the almost half a century since the Apollo 11 landing. Perhaps that fact, when reconsidered by the parties, will allow them to amicably resolve the dispute in a way that recognizes both of their legitimate interests."

Carlson will now request her precious moon pouch to be returned to her from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, or maybe she'd settle for a sweet government deal to not pay taxes for the rest of her life instead.  

Which would you rather have?  Big bucks or a cool moon bag?

(Via Space)