A woman who has battled NASA for years over an artifact from the Apollo 11 moon mission has filed a new lawsuit accusing the agency of damaging the object and illegally taking particles of moon dust.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., by Nancy Lee Carlson, concerns a sample bag taken on the historic first manned moon mission in 1969.
“The bag contained lunar samples, including some lunar dust enmeshed in the bag fibers when the Apollo 11 mission returned to earth,” the suit says.
Carlson bought the item in 2015 for $995. She sold it in 2017 for $1.8 million.
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During that two-year period, Carlson and NASA were engaged in a protracted legal battle over its ownership, which she eventually won.
Her new lawsuit accuses the space agency of damaging the bag and illegally keeping some of the lunar material it originally contained.
After the bag containing the first samples of lunar material collected by Neil Armstrong came back down to earth, it ended up in the possession of Max Ary, who was president and CEO of the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, Kan.
But it was seized from Ary’s home by federal officials in 2003 as part of an investigation into the alleged theft of space artifacts.
Ary was ultimately convicted of a number of criminal charges including money laundering, and the federal court ordered the sale of some of his assets to satisfy a monetary judgment in that case.
The bag was twice offered at auction in 2011 and 2013, but there were no buyers.
Carlson, who lives in Illinois, bought the bag after seeing it on an online government auction website in February 2015. She paid $995.
After her purchase, Carlson contacted NASA to see if the agency could authenticate the bag as having flown on Apollo 11 and whether it contained lunar samples.
The agency’s Apollo sample curator agreed to do so, and Carlson sent the bag to NASA in August 2015.
In March 2016, NASA found that the bag was authentic and that there was lunar dust and particles “enmeshed in the fabric of the bag.”
But after making that judgment NASA, for the first time according to the suit, claimed ownership of the bag. The agency refused to return it to Carlson.
NASA contended that the item had been mistakenly put up for auction and that it rightfully belonged to the people of the United States.
The federal government subsequently filed a motion in federal court in Kansas to rescind the sale of the bag to Carlson.
But a federal judge found that he had no legal authority to rescind the sale, and denied the government’s motion, confirming Carlson as the “true and sole owner” of the bag, according to the suit.
Despite the ruling, NASA refused to return the bag, prompting Carlson to file a federal lawsuit in Texas asking for the return of her property.
The court ruled in Carlson’s favor and the bag was turned over to her in February 2017.
After its return, Carlson had the item auctioned by Sotheby’s. It was sold for $1.8 million.
Even though she has sold the bag, Carlson filed the new lawsuit because the bag had shown damage that wasn’t present when she forwarded it to NASA, and some lunar samples and dust had been removed, the suit alleges.
That diminished its fair market value and deprived Carlson of her property without due process of law, the lawsuit says.
Carlson seeks an unspecified amount in damages and attorney’s fees, and is also asking that any lunar samples removed from her property be returned.
Alternatively, the suit asked that she receive monetary compensation for the removed samples.
On Tuesday, Carlson referred questions to her Kansas City attorneys, who declined to comment.
A phone message left at NASA headquarters was not immediately returned.