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Woman: Neil Armstrong gave me moondust; I don’t want NASA to take it away

(Source: arstechnica.com)

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Private company plans to bring Moon rocks back to Earth in three yearsA woman who claims to own a small vial of lunar dust that she says was given to her as a child by Neil Armstrong has now sued NASA.

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

The woman, Laura Murray Cicco, says that as a 10-year-old, she received a “glass vial with a rubber stopper full of light grey dust,” along with a signed note from the famed Apollo 11 astronaut.

According to the lawsuit, Armstrong was friends with Cicco’s father, Tom Murray, back in the 1970s, when the two men were living in Cincinnati.

The lawsuit simply asks a federal court in Kansas to declare that she is the rightful owner. It is not clear why she is bringing the lawsuit now, five years after she told the Kansas City Star that she found it in a wooden chest.

Cicco’s attorney, Christopher McHugh, hired a scientist, Tom Tague, to examine the sample using spectroscopy in order to determine its provenance. He concluded, using two different methods, that “at this point, it would be difficult to rule out lunar origin. I am speculating, but it may be possible that some dust from the earth became mingled with this likely lunar sample.”

McHugh previously represented another woman who found herself in similar circumstances in recent years. In that case, in 2016, a federal judge in Wichita ruled that the government had to return to a local woman, Nancy Carlson, a NASA bag that was used to collect lunar samples, which turned out to contain moondust. She had bought it at a government auction for $995, and, after the favorable ruling, sold it for millions.

In court filings, McHugh wrote that Cicco’s lunar sample has been moved to an undisclosed location in Kansas, while she continues to live in Tennessee—likely because there is now a legal precedent in this particular judicial district.

“There is no law against private persons owning lunar material. Lunar material is not contraband,” McHugh wrote. “It is not illegal to own or possess.”

NASA would neither confirm nor deny the authenticity of the lunar sample or answer Ars’ questions as to whether this was a common practice amongst Apollo 11-era astronauts or others who have set foot on the Moon since.

“Since there is a court case involving this, it would be inappropriate for NASA to comment,” Kelly Humphries, a NASA spokesman, emailed Ars.

UPDATE 6:25pm ET: McHugh emailed Ars to answer our query as to why this lawsuit was being brought now: “Plans for the vial are uncertain, but given precedence and the historical significance, she has decided to pursue this case. Due to NASA’s position that all lunar material in private hands is stolen government property, and the aggressive action taken by NASA in the past including raids on private citizens, I felt taking this dispute to a federal judge was the right course.”

More Info: arstechnica.com

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