NASA has been preemptively sued to protect Neil Armstrong-gifted moon dust

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Jun 13, 2018, 1:35 PM EDT

Astronaut Neil Armstrong may be back in the news for an upcoming biopic, but another piece of his legacy is stirring up controversy in real life. Well, pieces of his legacy.

According to the The Washington Post, a lawsuit has been filed against NASA by Laura Murray Cicco in order to keep ownership of a vial of moon dust allegedly gifted to her as a child by family friend Armstrong.

NASA hasn’t yet made moves to seize the vial, but the agency does have a history of taking lunar mementos — all according to policy in its Lunar Allocations Handbook. “Lunar samples are the property of the United States Government,” the handbook states, “and it is NASA’s policy that lunar sample materials will be used only for authorized purposes. It is therefore essential that rigorous accountability and security procedures be followed by all persons who have access to lunar materials.”

It’s not against a law to own the dust, but it’s NASA policy that “lunar sample material” belongs to the government. There is a question of ownership here, so this proactive legal move by Cicco and her attorney Christopher McHugh isn’t coming from an unprecedented place of paranoia.

“Laura was rightfully given this stuff by Neil Armstrong, so it’s hers and we just want to establish that legally,” McHugh said. The dust came in a glass vial, given to Cicco by her mother when she was 10, which originated from Armstrong, who was reportedly a member of the secret society Quiet Birdmen with Cicco’s Army pilot father. A handwritten note, authenticated by experts (according to McHugh), backs up this story, reading, “To Laura Ann Murray — Best of luck — Neil Armstrong Apollo 11.”

As for the dust itself? Maybe moon, maybe not. The results have thus far been inconclusive, reports the Post. That said, it’s hard to say the dust didn't come from the moon, which means the mysterious vial is being held in an undisclosed and safe location until the question of legal ownership is settled. NASA has yet to respond as of this posting, but the lawsuit was recently served and, as McHugh told Gizmodo, the space agency has 60 days to respond.

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