How Apollo 11 Mission Lunar Samples led to Legal Battle

How Apollo 11 Mission Lunar Samples led to Legal Battle

A rare artifact- a small white bag used in the Apollo 11 mission- is in news decades after it returned to earth. The bag has samples taken from the surface of the moon. These days, it is the center of a legal battle because government had mistakenly sold it during an auction last year.

Now, federal prosecutors want to recover the very rare artifact, which was found during an investigation against Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center founder Max Ary.

The interesting tale of priceless bag started in 2005 when Ary was found guilty for stealing and selling rare artifacts. The center’s head even sold those space items that were taken on a loan from NASA. The bag was found in 2003 when investigators were inspecting Ary’s garage.

Over 10 years after locating the bag, it was sold during a government auction, and the buyer was Nancy Carlson of Illinois who spent just $995 to get the lunar artifact. After getting it, Carlson sent it to the US space agency for verification. NASA, which wasn’t aware of the bag’s sale, didn’t return the bag. In June, Carlson filed a lawsuit against NASA to get the bag back.

Federal prosecutors say the bag is a rare artifact that should be within NASA for space researches. They also urged asked the federal judge on Ary’s case to withdraw the bag’s sale and paid Carlson.

It was a mistake where two lunar bags had same inventory identification number. One bag, which was sold to Carlson, was from the Apollo 11 mission, while the other belongs to a recent mission to the moon, Apollo 17 in 1972. Ary had also sold the second lunar bag in 2002 for $20,000, but it was recovered by the government.

A report published in CS Monitor revealed, "Federal prosecutors are seeking to recover a white sample bag that had been used on the Apollo 11 lunar landing. The bag was collected in a criminal investigation against Max Ary, founder and former director of the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, and mistakenly sold at a government auction in 2015."

More than a decade later, the bag was sold at a government auction to Nancy Carlson, an Illinois resident. Carlson purchased the bag for $995 and later shipped it to NASA’s Johnson Space Center for authentication. NASA, who had apparently not been notified of the bag’s sale, withheld the artifact.

In 2006, Ary was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay over $130,000 in restitution. In 2008, he made an unsuccessful bid to appeal his conviction. Ary was released on good behavior in 2010, having served about 70 percent of his sentence. He has consistently maintained innocence, claiming that he accidentally mixed museum artifacts with items from his private collection.

According to a report in Tech Times by Rhodi Lee, "A bag that was brought along by astronauts aboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft when they flew to the moon in June 1969 and was used to collect the first sample of lunar materials is at the center of a legal battle after the United States government mistakenly sold it."

The Cosmosphere discovered irregularities during an internal inventory in the fall of 2003. Further investigations eventually revealed that some items were removed from the museum's collection and were improperly sold leading to the filing of a criminal case against Ary.

Officials said that the confusion happened because of an internal clerical error. Two separate lunar bags, in which one was a sample bag used in the 1972 Apollo 11 lunar mission, were assigned the same identification number. Ary auctioned the 1972 sample bag in 2001 for $24,150 but it was later recovered by investigators.


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