Moon dust bag suburban woman bought for $995 could fetch millions at auction

A bag of moon dust owned by a suburban Chicago woman is heading to auction — surrounded by some fallout from a galactic court battle.

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.

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

In December, a federal judge ruled that it legally belonged to a Nancy Carlson, a resident of northwest suburban Inverness who bought it in 2015 for $995.

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

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.

The 12-by-8½-inch bag was misidentified and sold at an online government auction.

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

A collector, Carlson 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.

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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.”

Following the judge’s ruling earlier this year, Carlson told the Tribune that she was receiving hundreds of emails a day, and people were showing up at her door, inquiring about the moon dust bag. Because of the intense interest, Carlson said she was keeping the bag in a secure location unknown even to her. She had previously kept the bag in her bedroom closet, she said.

“I’m thrilled we won,” she said at the time. “This is like the Holy Grail.” But, she added, “I’m trying to be as anonymous as possible.”

Carlson said at the time she wasn’t sure what she would do with the bag.

The “Space Exploration” auction is being held on the 48th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing and includes lunar and space photographs and other artifacts. But Sotheby’s touts the Apollo 11 Contingency Lunar Sample Return bag as the “star lot.”

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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The Associated Press contributed.