Was the news hit up earlier this month that the infamous “Cockroach Moon Dust” was up for auction? As it turns out, NASA is trying to stop selling because they claim they own all the lunar material brought back from the Apollo mission. What? Cockroaches did not know about the dust of the moon? Well, it’s a long and – to be honest – weird story.
This may seem silly now, but in 1969 there was a real concern that Apollo 11 could bring back something harmful. So much so that NASA pulled out an RV and held the astronaut and a volunteer home for about three weeks. At that time they were tested and some were tested to see if they had come in contact with anything bad.
One of these experiments was to feed the cockroach lunar dust (by the way, there is an error in the table of contents – see page 8). Seriously. But that’s not the really weird part. A scientist who worked on the project, Marion Brooks, decided she wanted a memento, so she took the moon dust out of the dead cockroach and stored it in a vial. At least we learned a new word: kaim.
The RR auction – RR means Remarkable Rarities – started bidding for about 12 grand for a dew of some dead cockroaches and chimes but it was certain that more than that, probably up to $ 400,000 USD. It was before they paused and paused from NASA.
Looks like the collection has been sold at least once before. NASA has cracked down on anyone who sells lunar material because people are even considering taking loans from paid agencies. However, many of the rocks given to different countries and state governments are now unaccounted for.
In 2002, intern Thad Roberts and Tiffany Fowler worked on the building where most of NASA’s lunar rocks are stored. They took a 600-pound safe with about 100 grams of moon samples and some other materials. With some help, Roberts tried to fence them off to an amateur rock collector who helped the FBI set up a sting. Roberts spent more than 8 years in federal prison for his efforts, a little more than an accomplice, Gordon McWarther, who claimed to have been deceived by Roberts. There have been a few more incidents of theft, most of which have remained unresolved.
This is one of the clever things. From NASA’s point of view, they own all the moon rocks (with a few exceptions, most of the material that didn’t come from Apollo). If you steal them, they want them back and if you lend them, they don’t appreciate you giving them up, selling them or losing them. On the other hand, outside of direct theft like in the Roberts case, it’s hard to imagine that you want to control the old Roach Cime.
We have two things to wonder about. First, who saves Roach Kyme even though it started as a lunar dust? Second, if three small pebbles brought by the Soviet Luna 16 probe sold for more than $ 850,000 and the dust could go up to $ 400,000, why not rush to bring back some more new samples of these “new space” startups? Looks like it could pay for itself.