A woman in Tennessee is suing NASA to keep possession of a vial full of grey dust. She says it’s moon dust, and that Neil Armstrong gave it to her in 1972.
This story gets even wilder when you find out that NASA isn’t even trying to take the dust from the woman; she’s suing them preemptively to ensure that the dust is recognized as her own legal property.
That might sound goofy, (the whole story sounds goofy, frankly) but there’s a reason behind it. You see, NASA considers all lunar material to be government property, and they have a history of going to pretty extreme lengths to recover moon material that goes missing.
The woman in this case, Laura Cicco, says that the vial was given to her by her father, who knew Neil Armstrong from aviation circles they both travelled in. It came along with a business card that Neil had put his autograph on.
The autograph has been ruled to be authentic, but the dust is of indeterminate origin. It’s gray, for sure, but lab results showed it was similar to your average earth dirt. (Of course, earth dirt and moon dirt are chemically very similar.) Cicco’s lawyer thinks it’s possible the vial contains dust that was vacuumed off of Armstrong’s space suit.
And given NASA’s aggressive lunar-sample recovery efforts in the past, Cicco’s lawyer felt it prudent to file a preemptive suit demanding the dust be recognized as Cicco’s property. “I didn’t want her to be in a situation where she felt like she had to hide… Because if NASA finds out about it they will come kick your door in,” the lawyer, Cristopher McHugh, told CBS.
NASA refused to comment on the case, but other experts say it’s unlikely the dust is really from the moon. Space historian Robert Pearlman said he thinks Armstrong wouldn’t have kept lunar samples, and certainly wouldn’t have given them away.
“To our knowledge he never gave moon dust to his sons, he never gave moon dust to his first or second wife. He never gave moon dust to his crewmates. I’ve worked with Buzz Aldrin. I know he doesn’t have any,” Pearlman said.
That’s not to say that Cicco’s vial of dust isn’t moon dust, though. Maybe Armstrong did give out some dust to friends and family and just never told the government. (Because why would he rat himself out?)
And even if it isn’t moon dust, it could still have come from Neil Armstrong. Maybe Neil just packed a little glass vial full of grey dust to give to a flying buddy as a gift, and told him it was “moon dust” just to make it special.
Either way, the issue of this vial of supposed moon dust could soon make its way to federal court.