It’s not unheard of for stolen goods to come up for sale at an auction house. But a recent lot in St Louis turned out to be out of this world.
When the crew of Apollo returned to earth, they passed on canisters of film they had shot on the moon to photographer Terry Slezak. When he opened one canister, dust spilled onto his hands, and when he realized this had come from the moon, he picked up as much as he could of it using a piece of sticky tape, later attaching it to a poster of photographs from the voyage that had been signed by the astronauts.
Exactly what happened next is a little hazy. Mr Slezak says he was never questioned about the dust, though the US Attorney’s Office has described his actions as theft, while one company that specializes in space souvenirs says Slezak was put into quarantine over fears that the dust might contain material harmful to the Earth.
What is certain is that Slezak sold it to a German collector in 2001. It’s believed the one inch piece of tape was cut into pieces and resold.
Last month the Regency-Superior auction house in St Louis received a lot from a woman who said the item has been purchased a few years earlier by her late husband. The lot was a triangular segment of the tape that was approximately one-eighth of an inch wide that had been mounted by a German company on a new, unsigned poster (pictured above.)
Once the item was publicly listed for an upcoming auction, the Eastern Missouri branch of the US Attorney Office contacted the auction house. The woman “immediately and graciously agreed to relinquish it back to the American people”; there’s no official word on whether she was paid for the item.
The dust has now gone through preliminary testing at its new home, the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Early signs are that it is likely lunar, but full tests will take another two to three weeks.