Neil Armstrong reached the lunar ground on July 21, 1969 at 02:56:15 UTC. After his statement for the history, his very first activity was to observe the soil and to take small rocks and dust. The managers of the mission wanted to avoid that a later incident prevents this highly precious collection which was carried out before Aldrin descended from the LM to join him.
Armstrong keeps his specimens in a Contingency Sample Bag specially designed to protect users against unidentified hazards. The bag is made with a multi-layer insulating fiber named Beta cloth along with polyester and closed by a brass zipper. It was emptied during the return journey with a vacuum process that was not very effective since some lunar dust remained inside the bag.
Flight used artefacts from Apollo 11 are very rare in the art market except for a few astronaut-managed memorabilia. The Contingency Lunar Sample Return Outer Decontamination Bag in which Armstrong temporarily stored his first samples is estimated over $ 2M for sale by Sotheby's in New York on July 20, lot 102.
The availability of this historic piece at auction is the result of a double negligence from the NASA. In the 1970s when the Agency provided the Smithsonian with what remained of the Apollo 11 mission, the absence of the bag was not identified. NASA also did not check in 2014 a private collection ready to be auctioned on request from the government after a fraudulent behavior of its owner, the former director of a space museum in Kansas.
Identified as "One flown zippered lunar sample return bag with lunar dust ("Lunar Bag"), 11.5 inches; Tear at center. Flown Mission Unknown" the bag was finally bought in March 2015 by an amateur geologist delighted with that opportunity. She opens the pouch, records the references, starts an online search and finds that what she bought for $ 995 is the very first bag to have contained lunar samples.
NASA confirms the authenticity as well as the lunar nature of the dust remaining in the bag. Upset with their own blunder they tried to recover the artefact but the auction had been guaranteed by the US Marshals Service. Two lawsuits confirmed the regular ownership by the bidder who now promises to give to various charities a portion of the proceeds of the sale which she is entrusting to Sotheby's.
SOLD for $ 1.8M including premium