A Tennessee woman is suing NASA to affirm her ownership of a vial of moon dust she says was given to her by astronaut Neil Armstrong.
Laura Murray Cicco filed the federal lawsuit last week under the US Declaratory Judgement Act – which would allow a court to legally determine who the rightful owner is – to preemptively establish that she owns the moon dust, according to the Kansas City Star.
Cicco says she was 10-years-old when her mother gave her a vial filled with moon dust and a note from Armstrong, who she said was a close friend of her father’s.
“To Laura Ann [née] Murray – Best of luck – Neil Armstrong Apollo 11,” said the note.
NASA hasn’t tried to claim ownership, but her lawyer says she is filing proactively because the space agency has a history of seizing lunar material. Last year, an Apollo II bag containing traces of moon dust also owned by Armstrong sold for $1.8 million at an auction, but not without prior litigation. The year before, the collector in possession of this bag filed a case in Kansas for legal ownership of the bag they bought for $995 after the US government mistakenly placed it in an online auction. The government petitioned the court to reverse the sale and return the sample bag to NASA, but they ultimately lost. McHugh, who also represented that collector, says there is no law prohibiting private citizens from owning material from the moon.
“Laura was rightfully given this stuff by Neil Armstrong, so it’s hers and we just want to establish that legally,” Cicco's attorney Chris McHugh told the newspaper.
The note from Armstrong is authentic, according to court documents. An expert who tested the sample said it "may have originated" from the moon's surface; one test found that the dust’s mineralogy is consistent with the composition of soil found on the moon, yet another suggests the composition is similar to the “average crust of Earth".
NASA has reportedly lost or misplaced more than 500 moon rocks collected by Apollo astronauts, according to an agency audit. In 1969, Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon in what began a series of lunar explorations. Three years following the initial landing, six Apollo missions brought back 2,200 separate samples from six different exploration sites on the moon, totaling 382 kilograms (842 pounds) of lunar material, including rocks, core samples, pebbles, sand, and dust from the surface of the moon.
Generally speaking, the agency’s position is that all material from the moon belongs to the nation. Citing the pending lawsuit, a NASA spokesperson told the Washington Post that it would be “inappropriate” for the agency to comment.