NASA Is on a Mission to Reclaim Lost Moondust

Moondust and cockroach samples that were due to be sold in a private auction that concluded on June 23 have been requested by NASA for safe return.

The space agency contacted the Boston-based auction company RR Auction earlier this month to prohibit the sale of moondust that was gathered by astronauts during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission.

The University of Minnesota (UM) researcher experimented with feeding the moondust to cockroaches "to determine if the lunar rock contained any sort of pathogen that posed a threat to terrestrial life," according to The Washington Post.

The items, which included a vial containing around 0.0014 ounce (40 milligrams) of Moon dust, the carcasses of three cockroaches, and a large number of microscope slides, still belonged to the federal government, according to a letter from a lawyer for NASA dated June 15.

The eclectic collection of items, billed by the auction house as "a one-of-a-kind Apollo rarity," was projected to bring in a whopping US$400,000 at auction.

In the letter was stated that "all Apollo samples, as stipulated in this collection of items, belong to NASA and no person, university, or other entity has ever been given permission to keep them after analysis, destruction, or other use for any purpose, especially for sale or individual display".

Additionally, NASA asked RR Auction to immediately stop taking bids for the lot and to "no longer facilitate the sale of any and all items containing the Apollo 11 Lunar Soil Experiment".

Approximately 47 pounds (21.3 kilograms) of lunar rock were recovered by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during their Moon landing, far less than the quantity of moondust in the auction lot.

According to the sale listing, around 4.5 pounds (2 kg) of that quantity went to researchers at the University of Michigan's Lunar Receiving Laboratory who studied how exposure to the dust impacted insects, aquatic life, and bacteria.

"Some animals were inoculated with dust, some received portions mixed with their food or water, and others walked or crawled through dust spread around the bottom of their containers," according to a piece that appeared in the 1970 issue of Minnesota Science.

UM entomologist Marion Brooks evaluated the dust by giving it to cockroaches while it was in her custody before it was put up for sale.

Brooks fed the cockroaches a "half-and-half diet [containing] regular food mixed with an equal amount of the charcoal-gray lunar soil" according to a 1969 story that appeared in the Minneapolis Tribune (now the Star Tribune) on October 6, 1969, and was repeated in the auction ad online.

None of the trial animals "suffered any harm from the lunar dust", according to the Minnesota Science article.

However, Brooks didn't give the samples back to NASA once she finished her research; instead, she exhibited them at home, and her daughter sold them after her mother passed away in 2007. The Washington Post reports that RR Auction is managing the current auction on behalf of an unnamed consignor.

In response to NASA's request, RR Auction is coordinating with the government, according to Mark Zaid, an attorney for the auction firm, who spoke to The Washington Post.

This article was originally published by Live Science. Read the original article here.