NASA wants their moondust and roaches back – now!

NASA wants their moondust and roaches back – now!

BOSTON (AP) — NASA wants its moondust and roaches back.

The space agency has asked Boston-based RR Auction to stop selling lunar dust collected during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission and subsequently fed to cockroaches during an experiment to see if the lunar rocks harbored some type of pathogen contained that posed a threat to 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 containing about 40 milligrams of moon dust and three cockroach carcasses, was set to sell for at least $400,000 but was pulled from the auction block, RR said Thursday.

“All Apollo samples as set forth in this collection of items belong to NASA and no person, university or other entity has ever been granted permission to recover them after analysis, destruction or other use for any purpose, including but not limited to sale or for Individuals to retain notice,” said a letter from NASA dated March 15.

“We are asking that you no longer support the sale of any items containing the Apollo 11 lunar soil experiment (the cockroaches, slides, and post-destruction test samples) by immediately stopping the bidding process,” they wrote NASA .

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

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

The roaches, which were fed lunar dust, were taken to the University of Minnesota where entomologist Marion Brooks dissected and examined them.

“I found no evidence of infectious agents,” Brooks, who died in 2007, told the Minneapolis Tribune for an October 1969 story. According to the article, she found no evidence that the lunar material was toxic or had any other adverse effects on the insects.

But the moon rocks and roaches were never returned to NASA, instead being displayed at Brooks’ home. Her daughter sold them in 2010 and they are now being put up for sale again by a consignor who RR has not disclosed.

It’s not uncommon for third parties to claim something that’s being auctioned, said Mark Zaid, an attorney with RR Auction.

“NASA has a track record of tracking things related to the early space programs,” although they were inconsistent on doing so, Zaid said. According to its own statements, NASA admitted in one of its letters that it was unaware of the previous auction of the cockroach experiments.

“We have worked with NASA before and have always worked with the US government when they make claims on items,” Zaid said. “After all, we want to act appropriately and lawfully.”

RR Auction is holding the lot for now, but ultimately it’s up to the consignor to clear something with NASA, he said.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.

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