A woman is suing Nasa over fears it will seize what she says is a vial of moon dust.
The pre-emptive lawsuit seeks to prevent Nasa from claiming ownership of the vial. If it is indeed from the moon as claimed, the legal status would be in question. The BBC notes a 2012 law that says astronauts can keep artefacts from space missions but not “lunar rocks and other lunar material.”
Laura Cicco says she got the vial as a child and that it had been given to her father by Neil Armstrong, who knew her father through a society of aviators. The vial came with an autograph made out to her, signed on the back of her father’s business card.
The Washington Post notes court documents suggest an expert who analyzed the contents of the vial got mixed results on whether it comes from Earth or the moon and suggested it may be a mixture of the two.
The lawsuit cites a previous case where a woman was arrested in a sting operation after trying to sell two paperweights that contained a tiny fragment of moonrock and a piece of the heat shield from Apollo 11. She wasn’t charged and later reached a settlement after alleging false imprisonment.
Cicco’s lawyer previously worked on another case involving Nasa’s claims to lunar dust in a sample bag used by Armstrong. The lawyer says that as well as protecting Cicco’s interest, the case could help set a precedent that private citizens can legally own lunar material.
Nasa has yet to comment on the lawsuit. A former special agent told the BBC that lunar material returned via Apollo missions are automatically the US government’s property and that Neil Armstrong would not have had the authority to pass on legal possession.