48 years ago yesterday, Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, an unsurpassed milestone in the history of human exploration. To celebrate, luxury auction house Sotheby’s launched a mission of its own: to sell the shit out of some priceless artefacts from the American and Soviet space programmes, including one that, uh, NASA didn’t really want to see sold.
The array of relics range from an original illustration of “The Exploration of Mars” (which sold for $125,000, a rep for Sotheby’s told Gizmodo) to a moon-dusted bag used by astronaut Neil Armstrong for lunar return samples during Apollo 11. According to the auction house’s website, the bag—which was one of the most-hyped pieces for obvious reasons—sold for just over $1.8 million. That’s actually a bargain considering it was expected to sell for anywhere between $2 to 4 million. Consequently, the bag did not top Sotheby’s all-time highest sale price for a space artefact, which was achieved by the Soviet Vostok 3KA-2 capsule when it sold for $2,882,500 back in 2011.
Image Courtesy of Sotheby’s
It’s unclear how Sotheby’s was able to obtain the objects on sale today, and while the auction house has released the amounts each item sold for, it did not disclose any of the buyers. What we do know is that the sale of that high-ticket collection bag was highly controversial. The bag has been the centre of a court case between NASA and a Chicago-area woman who purchased the bag online in 2015, not knowing its exact origins. According to the Washington Post, after the buyer, Nancy Carlson, sent the bag to NASA for testing, the agency told her it “belongs to the American people.”
Ultimately, a district judge in Wichita, Kansas ruled that NASA couldn’t keep the bag, despite being sympathetic to the space agency’s argument that it probably shouldn’t have gone on sale in the first place.
There’s always a chance the mystery buyer this time will put the bag in public collections. Or just maybe we’re being too cynical, and the mystery buyer is a museum. It’d be a shame to lose these incredible artefacts, especially on the lunaversary.