(ORDO NEWS) — NASA has requested the safe return of lunar dust and cockroach samples, which were scheduled to be sold at a private auction ending June 23rd.
Earlier this month, the space agency asked Boston-based RR Auction to stop selling lunar dust collected by astronauts during the 1969 Apollo 11 flight.
Shortly after moon dust was brought to Earth in 1969, NASA sent some samples to a University of Minnesota (UM) researcher who was experimenting with feeding cockroaches with moon dust “to determine if moon rock contains any pathogen that poses a threat for earthly life,” according to The Washington Post.
In a June 15 letter, a NASA lawyer said the samples which included a vial of about 0.0014 ounces (40 milligrams) of dust from the moon, the remains of three cockroaches and dozens of microscope slides still belonged to the federal government.
The motley lot of merchandise, which the auction house touted as “a one-of-a-kind Apollo rarity,” was expected to fetch a whopping $400,000 at auction.
The letter noted that “all Apollo samples, as listed in this collection of items, belong to NASA, and no person, university or other organization has ever received permission to store them after analysis, destruction or other use for any purpose, especially for sale or individual display.”
NASA also asked RR Auction to immediately stop accepting bids for the lot and “no longer promote the sale of all items containing information about the Apollo 11 experiment on lunar soil.”
The tube of lunar dust up for auction is just a small part of what astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin collected during the moon landing: about 47 pounds (21.3 kilograms) of lunar rock.
Of that, about 4.5 pounds (2 kg) went to UM scientists at the university’s Lunar Reception Laboratory, where researchers analyzed how dust exposure affected insects, aquatic life and microbes, according to an auction listing.
“Some animals were inoculated with the dust, some received rations mixed with their food or water, and others walked or crawled on the dust strewn across the bottom of their containers,” according to an article published in 1970 in the journal Minnesota Science.
The dust sample up for auction was originally run by Marion Brooks, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota, who tested the dust by feeding it to cockroaches.
According to an October 6, 1969, article in the Minneapolis Tribune (now the Star Tribune) and reproduced in an online auction listing, Brooks fed cockroaches “a half and half diet [of] ordinary food mixed with an equal amount of charcoal gray moon soil.”
A Minnesota Science article reported that none of the animals involved in the experiments “were affected by moon dust.”
However, instead of returning the samples to NASA when the research was completed, Brooks displayed them at her home, and her daughter sold them a few years after her mother’s death in 2007. Auction RR Auction is holding the current sale on behalf of an anonymous sender, according to The Washington Post.
Mark Zaid, a lawyer for the auction house, told The Washington Post that RR Auction is working with NASA in response to the agency’s request.
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