Neil Armstrong’s moon dust in Apollo 11 flight to be sold by Sotheby’s in New York auction

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 July, 2017, 2:29am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 July, 2017, 2:29am

Moon dust that Neil Armstrong collected during the first lunar landing on Apollo 11 was displayed on Thursday at a New York auction house, a symbol of America’s glory days in space now valued at US$2 to $4 million.

Traces of moon dust and small rock are embedded in what is the only artifact from the Apollo 11 mission in private hands, says Sotheby’s, who is organising the sale on July 20, the 48th anniversary of the first moon landing in 1969.

“It’s a tremendously rare thing,” says Cassandra Hatton, vice president and senior specialist in charge of the sale. “Something that was used by the first man, on the first mission to collect the first samples, it’s remarkable.”

Armstrong collected dust and rock fragments from five different locations on the lunar surface. Given its then unknown nature, the decontamination bag was used to minimise any potential harm the samples might pose.

The late astronaut brought the dust and some tiny rocks back to Earth in an ordinary-looking bag.

It’s one of 180 lots linked to space travel. The moon dust is the first sample of Earth’s satellite ever collected.

The bag has had a storied existence, a decades-long trajectory during which it was misidentified and nearly landed in the trash. About two years ago, it appeared in a seized assets auction staged on behalf of the US Marshals Service. The owner, whose name has not been made public, purchased the treasure and sent it to Nasa for testing.

After a legal tussle, a federal judge granted the owner full rights over the curiosity.

Other items on the block are Armstrong’s snapshot of fellow Apollo 11 astronaut “Buzz” Aldrin standing on the moon, with an estimated value of US$3,000 to US$5,000.

A documented flight plan astronauts used to return to Earth is valued at US$25,000 to US$35,000.

In a photo valued at US$2,000 to US$3,000, astronaut Gene Cernan from Apollo 17 is seen rolling around in the lunar rover through a valley on the moon.

Capping the sale is a touch of humour: The Snoopy astronaut doll that was the mascot of the Apollo 10 crew, at an estimated pre-sale price of US$2,000 to US$3,000.

Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon. He died in 2012 in Ohio.

The first human to venture into outer space was Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who orbited Earth in a spacecraft in April 1961.

Gagarin’s description of the planet, translated from Russian, is being offered as part of his observations on being in space, at an estimated price of US$50,000 to US$80,000.

Calling it “a magnificent picture,” he wrote: “The Earth had a very distinct and pretty blue halo. This halo could be clearly seen when looking at the horizon. It had a smooth transition from pale blue to blue, dark blue, violent and absolutely black.”

Hatton described holding it as “one of those moments where your heart’s racing and your hands are shaking. It’s the closest I’ll ever come to shaking hands with Neil Armstrong or being able to walk on the moon.”