A Tennessee girl is suing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) over a vial of moon mud.
Laura Cicco claims in a federal lawsuit that astronaut Neil Armstrong gave the vial to her mother and father when she was simply 10 years outdated.
Nearly 50 years later, Ms Cicco filed the lawsuit out of concern that Nasa will try to confiscate the moon mud from her.
Private possession of lunar materials is a contentious authorized problem within the US.
The lawsuit claims that take a look at outcomes have authenticated Ms Cicco’s vial, though some specialists nonetheless have questions.
If the preliminary findings are replicated, the vial could be extraordinarily beneficial however legally hazardous to promote.
“Nasa has taken this position that all lunar material is government property,” says Christopher McHugh, Ms Cicco’s lawyer.
“They’ve done Swat-style raids on people who have this stuff, treating them like criminals. I didn’t want that to happen to Laura.”
In 2012, Congress handed a legislation that mentioned that if astronauts took “artefacts” residence with them from their house missions – reminiscent of flight manuals, private logs or jettisoned items of their lunar modules – the objects belonged to them and the federal authorities wouldn’t try to say possession.
However, it particularly exempted “lunar rocks and other lunar material”.
A spokeswoman for Nasa declined to touch upon the lawsuit or make clear their place on non-public possession of lunar materials.
How did she purchase the moon mud?
In 1972, Ms Cicco says that her father, Tom Murray, got here residence from work in the future and handed her a vial of gray powder.
Her mom Dorothy defined that it got here from the primary man to ever stroll on the moon, Neil Armstrong, and in addition confirmed her his signature on the again of one in all her father’s enterprise playing cards.
“To Laura Ann Murray, best of luck, Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11,” the cardboard learn.
According to Ms Cicco, her father and Mr Armstrong have been each members of a Cincinnati chapter of the Quiet Birdmen, a secret society of outstanding aviators based within the 1920s.
The two males have been apparently shut sufficient that Mr Armstrong gave Mr Murray a present for his younger daughter.
But at 10 years outdated, Ms Cicco didn’t perceive what she held in her hand.
“I wasn’t really excited about it,” she recollects.
Decades later, Ms Cicco discovered the vial wrapped in a paper towel in between her mom’s quilts whereas sifting by means of her late mother and father’ belongings.
Although she had Mr Armstrong’s autograph in a body for years, she had utterly forgotten concerning the moon mud.
It wasn’t till Ms Cicco and her husband Chris tried to get the contents of the vial examined that they realised they may have an issue on their fingers.
“[I tried] a couple universities. The minute they found out what we thought it was they just said they don’t want to mess with it because they don’t want to get in trouble,” says Mr Cicco.
Can non-public residents personal moon mud?
The lawsuit disagrees with Nasa’s assertion that each one lunar materials belongs to the federal government, claiming that within the absence of a legislation explicitly banning non-public possession, Ms Cicco needs to be allowed to maintain hers.
Mr McHugh says the 2012 legislation created a “loophole” for lunar materials that this case would try to shut.
“There is no law against private persons owning lunar material,” the lawsuit reads. “Lunar material is not contraband. It is not illegal to own or possess.”
However, Joseph Gutheinz, a former senior particular agent for Nasa’s Inspector General who lead the primary undercover mission to return a stolen lunar rock within the late 1990s, disagrees, saying that even when Ms Cicco’s vial is genuine, the federal government should still have a declare to her moon mud.
“Lunar dust and lunar rocks that are brought back by an Apollo mission are the property of the United States government unless they give it to a foreign government,” he says. “Neil Armstrong wouldn’t have had authority to give the moon rock away.”
Mr McHugh says that if Nasa have been to take that place, they’d basically be calling one of many “greatest American heroes in history a thief”.
Has Nasa seized lunar materials earlier than?
Nasa has acted a number of instances to reclaim moon rocks that landed within the fingers of personal residents.
One of essentially the most contentious circumstances occurred in 2011, when Joann Davis, the widow of a former Nasa engineer, tried to promote two Lucite paperweights given to her by her late husband – one containing a rice grain-sized piece of lunar rock, the opposite with a chunk of the Apollo 11 warmth protect.
Ms Davis and her new husband met the “buyer” at a Denny’s Restaurant, solely to find it was a sting operation lead by Nasa’s Inspector General.
The federal brokers believed the 74-year-old had stolen the artefacts (she was by no means charged and efficiently sued the brokers).
Mr McHugh has additionally represented one other consumer who purchased a priceless lunar pattern bag which was mistakenly put up for public sale after it was confiscated from an area museum director who stole it from the gathering.
Armstrong used the bag to gather the very first moon rock specimens in 1969, and it nonetheless contained hint quantities of lunar mud.
Because the bag was auctioned off unintentionally by the federal government, a courtroom ultimately dominated after a protracted authorized battle that Nasa couldn’t have it again. The girl ultimately bought it for $1.8m (£1.3m).
Theft of lunar materials is an actual drawback – in 2002, three Nasa interns stole samples value an estimated $21m from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Of the 270 lunar samples given as items by the US to international governments, about 150 are lacking and plenty of are presumed to have been bought on the black market.
But Mr McHugh says that individuals like Ms Cicco who can show they didn’t steal the fabric needs to be allowed to personal it with out interference from Nasa. He hopes that by asking for a federal jury trial, the matter of whether or not or not non-public residents might personal lunar materials will likely be determined as soon as and for all.
At this level, Ms Cicco is not certain what she is going to do with the vial if she’s allowed to maintain it, although it might be value hundreds of thousands.
“It means more for my memory of my father,” she says. “When I was a little girl, your father is your superhero. I’m just really excited for him.”