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Moon dust heading to auction after galactic court battle

Associated Press logo Associated Press 7/20/2017
The Apollo 11 Contingency Lunar Sample Return Bag used by astronaut Neil Armstrong, to be offered at auction, is displayed at Sotheby's, in New York, Thursday, July 13, 2017. The lunar dust plus some tiny rocks that Armstrong also collected are zipped up in a small bag and are worth an estimated $2 million to $4 million. (AP Photo/Richard Drew) © The Associated Press The Apollo 11 Contingency Lunar Sample Return Bag used by astronaut Neil Armstrong, to be offered at auction, is displayed at Sotheby's, in New York, Thursday, July 13, 2017. The lunar dust plus some tiny rocks that Armstrong also collected are zipped up in a small bag and are worth an estimated $2 million to $4 million. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

NEW YORK (AP) — A bag containing traces of moon dust is heading to auction — surrounded by some fallout from a galactic court battle.

The Apollo 11 Contingency Lunar Sample Return Bag used by astronaut Neil Armstrong, to be offered at auction, is displayed at Sotheby's, in New York, Thursday, July 13, 2017. The lunar dust plus some tiny rocks that Armstrong also collected are zipped up in a small bag and are worth an estimated $2 million to $4 million.(AP Photo/Richard Drew) © The Associated Press The Apollo 11 Contingency Lunar Sample Return Bag used by astronaut Neil Armstrong, to be offered at auction, is displayed at Sotheby's, in New York, Thursday, July 13, 2017. The lunar dust plus some tiny rocks that Armstrong also collected are zipped up in a small bag and are worth an estimated $2 million to $4 million.(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

The collection bag, used by astronaut Neil Armstrong during the first manned mission to the moon in 1969, will be featured Thursday at a Sotheby's auction in New York City of items related to space voyages. The pre-sale estimate is $2 million to $4 million.

A Custom Command/Service Module, and Planetary Globe, right, to be offered at auction at Sotheby's, are displayed in New York, Thursday, July 13, 2017. The Custom Command/Service Module is estimated at $5,000 to $7,000. (AP Photo/Richard Drew) © The Associated Press A Custom Command/Service Module, and Planetary Globe, right, to be offered at auction at Sotheby's, are displayed in New York, Thursday, July 13, 2017. The Custom Command/Service Module is estimated at $5,000 to $7,000. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

The artifact from the Apollo 11 mission was misidentified and sold at an online government auction. NASA fought to get it back.

A print of astronaut Neil Armstrong's photograph of fellow Apollo 11 astronaut "Buzz" Aldrin standing on the moon, to be offered at auction at Sotheby's, is displayed in New York, Thursday, July 13, 2017. The photo, autographed by Aldrin, is estimated at $2,500 to $3,500. (AP Photo/Richard Drew) © The Associated Press A print of astronaut Neil Armstrong's photograph of fellow Apollo 11 astronaut "Buzz" Aldrin standing on the moon, to be offered at auction at Sotheby's, is displayed in New York, Thursday, July 13, 2017. The photo, autographed by Aldrin, is estimated at $2,500 to $3,500. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

In December, a federal judge ruled that it legally belonged to a Chicago-area woman who bought it in 2015 for $995.

The Apollo 13 Flown Flight Plan, with extensive annotations by the crew, to be offered at auction at Sotheby's, is displayed in New York, Thursday, July 13, 2017. It is estimated at $30,000 to $40,000. (AP Photo/Richard Drew) © The Associated Press The Apollo 13 Flown Flight Plan, with extensive annotations by the crew, to be offered at auction at Sotheby's, is displayed in New York, Thursday, July 13, 2017. It is estimated at $30,000 to $40,000. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Sotheby's declined to identify the seller. However, details of the 2015 purchase were made public during the court case.

A Gemini G1C Spacesuit Thermal Coverlayer, left, and a Wind Tunnel Test Model, to be offered at auction at Sotheby's, are shown in New York, Thursday, July 13, 2017. The spacesuit is estimated at $40,000 to $60,000 while the test module is estimated at $8,000 to $12,000. (AP Photo/Richard Drew) © The Associated Press A Gemini G1C Spacesuit Thermal Coverlayer, left, and a Wind Tunnel Test Model, to be offered at auction at Sotheby's, are shown in New York, Thursday, July 13, 2017. The spacesuit is estimated at $40,000 to $60,000 while the test module is estimated at $8,000 to $12,000. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Investigators unknowingly hit the moon mother lode in 2003 while searching the garage of a man later convicted of stealing and selling museum artifacts, including some that were on loan from NASA.

A flown Apollo 11 Flight Plan Sheet signed by Buzz Aldrin, to be offered at auction at Sotheby's, is displayed in New York, Thursday, July 13, 2017. The sheet is estimated at $25,000 to $35,000. (AP Photo/Richard Drew) © The Associated Press A flown Apollo 11 Flight Plan Sheet signed by Buzz Aldrin, to be offered at auction at Sotheby's, is displayed in New York, Thursday, July 13, 2017. The sheet is estimated at $25,000 to $35,000. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

The 12-by-8½-inch (30-by-20-centimeter) bag was misidentified and sold at an online government auction.

Nancy Carlson, of Inverness, Illinois, got an ordinary-looking bag made of white Beta cloth and polyester with rubberized nylon and a brass zipper.

Carlson, a collector, knew the bag had been used in a space flight, but she didn't know which one. She sent it to NASA for testing, and the government agency, discovering its importance, fought to keep it.

The artifact "belongs to the American people," NASA said then.

U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten in Wichita, Kansas said that while it shouldn't have gone up for auction, he didn't have the authority to reverse the sale. He ordered the government to return it.

The judge said the importance and desirability of the bag stemmed solely from the efforts of NASA employees whose "amazing technical achievements, skill and courage in landing astronauts on the moon and returning them safely have not been replicated in the almost half a century since the Apollo 11 landing."

When it comes to moon landings, Thursday's auction is far from the final frontier.

A group called For All Moonkind, Inc. mentioned the moon bag this week while campaigning for "measures to preserve and protect the six Apollo lunar landing sites."

It plans to take up the issue next month at the Starship Congress 2017 in California.

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