An auction for moon dust-fed cockroach carcasses has been blocked by NASA, who claim the items are their property. This story really starts back in 1969, when astronauts brought back moon dust from the Apollo 11 mission. That lunar soil was fed to insects, fish, and other small creatures to study the effects. The cockroaches from this experiment ended up at the University of Minnesota, where entomologist Marion Brooks dissected and studied them.
“I found no evidence of infectious agents,” Brooks told the Minneapolis Tribune in an interview from October of 1969. She saw no evidence that the moon material was toxic, or that it caused any other negative effects on the insects. According to NASA, the moon rock and cockroaches were supposed to be returned.
“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, destruction, or other use for any purpose, especially for sale or individual display,” NASA said in a letter on June 15th.
But it seems Brooks kept these items, and displayed them in her home. She passed away in 2007. 3 years later, her daughter sold the collection. In May of 2022, the unique set went up for sale again via RR Auctions.
“Taken from the bellies of Blattella germanica individuals, this material has been transformed from moon dust to cockroach chyme — a one-of-a-kind rarity in the space marketplace,” the auction reads. It contains 66 glass slides, a vial of 40 milligrams of moon dust, and three cockroach carcasses. Its estimated value is about $400,000+.
On June 15th, NASA requested the auction be halted. “We are requesting that you no longer facilitate the sale of any and all items containing the Apollo 11 Lunar Soil Experiment (the cockroaches, slides, and post-destructive testing specimen) by immediately stopping the bidding process.”
In another letter dated the 22nd, NASA’s lawyer asked the auction house to work with the current owner and return the items to the federal government. “NASA has a track record of pursuing items related to the early space programs,” RR Auction’s attorney Mark Zaid said. “We have worked with NASA before, and have always cooperated with the U.S. government when they lay claims to items,” he continued. “At the end of the day, we want to act appropriately and lawfully.”
As of June 23rd, the action had been shut down.