NASA Requests Return of Its Dead Roaches

Agency stops auction sale of experiment items, including moon dust collected in 1969
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 24, 2022 8:53 AM CDT
NASA Requests Return of Dead Roaches, Plus Their Lunar Meal
A close up of the lunar dust.   (RR Auction)

(Newser) – Unwilling to let another historic item pass out of its hands, NASA has intervened in the auction of some dead cockroaches. As the AP reports, Boston-based RR Auction was offering 40 milligrams of moon dust collected during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission that had been fed to and then extracted from cockroaches, as well as three cockroach carcasses, in a lot expected to sell for at least $400,000—until NASA caught wind of the plan. In a June 15 letter to the auction house, the agency states all material from the experiment that tested whether lunar dust posed a threat to life on Earth belongs to the federal government, not the current unnamed holder.

Nearly 50 pounds of lunar rock was brought to Earth at the conclusion of the Apollo 11 mission, then fed to various creatures in a test of toxicity. University of Minnesota entomologist Marion Brooks, tasked with dissecting and studying the German cockroaches who'd been fed moon dust, saw no ill effects. And afterward, she displayed the dead cockroaches, moon dust taken from their stomachs, and microscopic slides in her home, per the AP. NASA says it was unaware Brooks' daughter sold the items as well as Brooks' notes for $10,000 in 2010, three years after her mother's death, per Space.com.

"All Apollo samples, as stipulated in this collection of items, belong to NASA and no person, university, or other entity has ever been given permission to keep them after analysis ... for any purpose, especially for sale or individual display," reads the letter. It was followed by a second dated Wednesday, a day before the auction, after RR Auction requested additional information. The auction house ultimately stopped the bidding at $36,300 "to allow the parties to resolve clear title," attorney Mark Zaid tells collectSPACE. He says RR Auction is hanging on to the lot until the seller and NASA come to an agreement. (Samples of moon dust from the same mission legitimately sold at auction for $504,000 this year following a legal battle.)

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