Published: Fri, June 15, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

NASA has been preemptively sued to protect Neil Armstrong-gifted moon dust

NASA has been preemptively sued to protect Neil Armstrong-gifted moon dust

A woman is suing NASA in a bid to make sure she could keep possession of a vial of moon dust gifted to her by the first man to step on the Moon, Neil Armstrong.

She is seemingly concerned that the government might attempt to come after her-NASA has previously taken the legal position that "private persons can not own lunar material", and has criminally investigated people claiming to sell such lunar material or otherwise tried to seize such artifacts.

"When Laura was about 10 years old, her mother gave her a glass vial with a rubber stopper full of light grey dust, and one of her father's business cards", according to the lawsuit. Cicco says that Armstrong and her father were both members of a secret society of male pilots and were friends, per Fortune. An accompanying note from Armstrong says, "To Laura Ann Murray - Best of Luck - Neil Armstrong Apollo 11".

It wasn't until Ms Cicco and her husband Chris tried to get the contents of the vial tested that they realised they might have a problem on their hands.

"At this point, it would be hard to rule out lunar origin", writes the scientist in his report, included as an exhibit to the suit. Two different tests on the dust's composition had varying results, but the expert said that the sample could be moon dust mixed with Earth's own soil. "Lunar samples are the property of the United States Government", the handbook states, "and it is NASA's policy that lunar sample materials will be used only for authorized purposes".

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"There is no law against private persons owning lunar material".

The vial of dust that Cicco was gifted has been analyzed at least twice, with scientists ruling that it is "likely" a sample of the lunar surface. "It is not illegal to own or possess". NASA has yet to respond as of this posting, but the lawsuit was recently served and, as McHugh told Gizmodo, the space agency has 60 days to respond. "Laura shouldn't be afraid that NASA is going to come knocking on her door and barge in and try and take the vial".

Cicco's complaint cited a previous case involving an elderly California woman who accused Nasa officials of wrongfully seizing lunar mementos that her late husband, an Apollo programme engineer, had given her. Joann Davis said her husband left her two paperweights that contained a rice-grain-sized fragment of lunar material, or "moonrock", and a piece of the Apollo 11 heat shield.

But Mr McHugh says that people like Ms Cicco who can prove they did not steal the material should be allowed to own it without interference from Nasa. Her attorney said it's been kept for safekeeping.

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