back to article Woman sues NASA for ownership of vial of space dust

A woman has sued NASA, claiming to be the rightful owner of a small vial of moon dust supposedly given to her by Neil Armstrong. The lawsuit was filed under the US District Court of Kansas last week by Laura Murray Cicco. She claims that when she was ten, her mother handed her a glass vial with a rubber stopper containing …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So... uhm...

    NASA owns the moon then? Sounds pretty arrogant to me.

    1. Andrew Newstead

      Re: So... uhm...

      No, they are only claiming ownership of the materials that they spent the money on to retrieve and bring back to Earth. If you go and collect your own samples then that is a different matter.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: So... uhm...

        >If you go and collect your own samples then that is a different matter.

        Only if you also finance the trip.

        1. Andrew Newstead

          Re: So... uhm...

          That's the idea.

        2. remyzero

          Re: So... uhm...

          ...like American TAX PAYERS !

      2. sisk Silver badge

        Re: So... uhm...

        If you go and collect your own samples then that is a different matter.

        I'd say even by that measure this particular case is a bit muddy. Armstrong DID go and collect those samples and gave one to a friend's daughter. The argument could be made that NASA paid to get him there, but I think - just my opinion - that it'd be a hard sell to say he couldn't get something for himself while he was there in between all the samples he collected for NASA. And if he could get something for himself them he could also give it away.

        1. Gordon861

          Re: So... uhm...

          Not muddy at all.

          They went there with an aim to collect materials as part of the mission. As with most companies, if you produce something whilst doing your job the stuff you produce/collect belongs to them.

          1. sisk Silver badge

            Re: So... uhm...

            Not muddy at all.

            They went there with an aim to collect materials as part of the mission. As with most companies, if you produce something whilst doing your job the stuff you produce/collect belongs to them.

            True, but things are a little different with jobs where you're on the job 24/7 for long periods of time. Think of it this way: if a soldier is on mission someplace exotic and takes a few seconds to collect some sand from the beach in a test tube as a souvenir in between doing other things, does the military own that vial of sand? Of course not. I don't really think that the fact that very few people have been to the moon and had that chance to grab a vial of moon dust changes the situation that much.

            He collected samples for NASA and took a few seconds to collect one for himself, as anyone else who has a job they can't leave at the end of the day would have been allowed to. Just because he was paid to go there doesn't mean every speck of everything he brought back automatically has to be the property of his employer.

            1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

              Re: So... uhm...

              Yes but no but....

              That might work with the grain of sand argument but it's a whole lot different if the soldier brings back a pouch of gold nuggets even if honestly collected. You betya that there would have been military regs about taking anything of value.

              Plus a whole sub-genre of war films wouldn't exist :)

          2. Alan_Peery

            Re: So... uhm...

            Except with most companies, you have a work day, and if you go for a walk in the evening and find a pretty rock for your collection at home that doesn't become the company's rock.

      3. Oh Homer Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: So... uhm...

        Actually the Apollo program, like everything else at NASA, was funded by the US taxpayers, which in my view places moon dust clearly in the public domain.

        But even if you take the neoliberal view that everything should be privately owned, regardless of whether it was funded by leaching from the public purse, we're talking about a tiny sample of dust - where NASA already has a vast hoard of lunar material, collected decades ago, then accepted as a gift in good faith.

        NASA literally chasing every last speck of moon dust just seems like senseless greed, under the circumstances.

        1. Monty Cantsin

          Re: So... uhm...

          "Actually the Apollo program, like everything else at NASA, was funded by the US taxpayers, which in my view places moon dust clearly in the public domain."

          NASA owing it would keep the mood dust in the public domain, since NASA's ownership is itself in the public domain.

          This woman owning it would place it in the private domain.

      4. WarrenCrum

        Re: So... uhm...

        I did, I hired NASA to collect them for me.

      5. WarrenCrum

        Re: So... uhm...

        I am pretty certain that NASA didn’t pay for anything unless the astronauts got part time jobs mowing the lawn’s to fund the space shuttles.

        Jack ass.

      6. JustJP

        Re: So... uhm...

        Whose tax dollars paid for NASA to go to the moon again?

    2. bexley

      no

      no they dont own the moon. I don´t own the desert in Jordan either but the small vial of purple sand that I brought back with me is mine.

      I paid for the transport to get there, I went out a collected it and I brought it home.

      I don´t really understand why NASA are being so up tight about this though, maybe to discourage further resales of things that they made possible to collect and would prefer to keep for their own research or display.

      It will make for a great provenance story at auction if she gets this back though.

      1. BillG Silver badge
        Boffin

        A Thriving Market of Counterfeits

        I don´t really understand why NASA are being so up tight about this though,

        Because if it was legal for someone to own lunar material with a thimble-full potentially worth a million dollars, a thriving market of counterfeits would spring up overnight which would quickly spiral out of control. It would include fake moon dust, fake rocks, fake experts, fake labs, fake lab results, and real murders.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: A Thriving Market of Counterfeits

          "Because if it was legal for someone to own lunar material with a thimble-full potentially worth a million dollars, a thriving market of counterfeits would spring up overnight which would quickly spiral out of control. It would include fake moon dust, fake rocks, fake experts, fake labs, fake lab results, and real murders."

          And as any fule know, the moon landings were fake too!

          On a slightly more serious note, even if Armstrong collected it as a personal memento, could there be freight charges involved? That was an expensive trip where every gramme added to the cost :-)

          1. bxdanny

            Re: A Thriving Market of Counterfeits

            Both the lunar module and the service module burned up, as planned, during the trip back to Earth. No fuel could be recovered from their engines, so their was no marginal added cost for transporting those few extra grams of moon dust.

          2. cosmogoblin

            Re: A Thriving Market of Counterfeits

            "could there be freight charges involved?"

            Reminds me of the towing invoice for Apollo 13

            1. onefang Silver badge

              Re: A Thriving Market of Counterfeits

              "Reminds me of the towing invoice for Apollo 13"

              I think they are due a refund for "Charges for keeping this invoice confidential".

        2. remyzero

          Re: A Thriving Market of Counterfeits

          cuz it isn`t from the MOON, sweetie.....

      2. onefang Silver badge

        Re: no

        "I don´t own the desert in Jordan either but the small vial of purple sand that I brought back with me is mine."

        I wonder where the line is drawn. Sure, collect a small vial of sand and it's yours, but several tonnes of sand is likely not yours to take.

        1. Fungus Bob Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: no

          "I wonder where the line is drawn."

          Where it is always drawn - in the sand...

      3. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: no

        I wouldnt bet on it - you may have collected it but did you have permission? I'd bet it counts as stolen.

  2. tempemeaty

    The ongoing ruthless take backs.

    NASA, for a long time now, has been pretty ruthless in taking back every bit of moon dust and rocks that were given to people. It's so ruthless and unnecessary that I can't help but wonder if they are hiding something.

    1. Michael Habel Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: The ongoing ruthless take backs.

      Yeah they don't want anyone finding out about the hidden NAZI Bunker on the Moon, with the Three Monoliths just down the hall, and to the left.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Three Monoliths just down the hall,

        We also shouldn't forget the fourth monolith, designed to be laid across the top of the other three, in order to form some kind of gate-like structure.

        1. A K Stiles
          Joke

          Re: Three Monoliths just down the hall,

          Three vertical, one horizontal across the top? Sounds like a wicket to me! Wonder where the bat and ball are?

          1. VinceH Silver badge
            Coat

            Re: Three Monoliths just down the hall,

            Have you seen how many craters there are on the moon?

          2. hammarbtyp Silver badge

            Re: Three Monoliths just down the hall,

            "Three vertical, one horizontal across the top? Sounds like a wicket to me! Wonder where the bat and ball are?"

            Ah, an artifact from the Krikkit wars .

            I always knew that Hitchhikers guide the the galaxy was not a novel but a warning sucked in from the future from a wormhole created by to many biros and spare socks

            1. Michael Habel Silver badge

              Re: Three Monoliths just down the hall,

              Probably also explains why the rest of the Galaxy wants nothing to do with us. besides being located in the unfashionable western end of said Galaxy. oh yeah we also like to though the term of Belgium 'round a lot too.*

              * Not much of a fan when it comes to censorship, but this was a case where the american version got it right.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Three Monoliths just down the hall,

                "* Not much of a fan when it comes to censorship, but this was a case where the american version got it right."

                fully agreed! I remember bursting our laughing at that line when I first read the book. I was at an age where an F-bomb would have been inherently funny, but Belgium was so much funnier in context.

                1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

                  Re: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin saw in 69

                  Saucy.

          3. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

            Re: Three Monoliths just down the hall,

            Three vertical, one horizontal across the top? Sounds like a wicket to me! Wonder where the bat and ball are?

            Fell into disuse after the whole thing was found to be impractical - play kept stopping for bad light for stretches of 14 days at a time.

            1. Chris G Silver badge

              Re: Three Monoliths just down the hall,

              Hans. You do know that cricket has nothing to do with sport?

              It's an old British weather control system.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Three Monoliths just down the hall,

                So, do mean that if you schedule a game then it rains at game time? That's a great way to ensure an area has sufficient ground water and it then appears that there must be a much greater number of cricket players here in the Province of New Brunswick, Canada than I would have thought.

              2. Tom 7 Silver badge

                Re: Three Monoliths just down the hall,

                Are they called the Belgian Marbles?

      2. steviebuk Silver badge

        Re: The ongoing ruthless take backs.

        And you forgot to mention they don't want to admit Mr Spoon was left there.

      3. tapemonkey

        Re: The ongoing ruthless take backs.

        Or all those alien bases Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin saw in 69

      4. tempemeaty
        Trollface

        Re: The ongoing ruthless take backs.

        "Yeah they don't want anyone finding out about the hidden NAZI Bunker on the Moon, with the Three Monoliths just down the hall, and to the left."

        You forgot the "Tin Foil Hat" reference. ⎝(。◁゚)⎠ᕕ(ᐛ)ᕗ

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: The ongoing ruthless take backs.

      It might have something to do with mineral rights. Not sure but I recall something from the 60's on this.

    3. remyzero

      Re: The ongoing ruthless take backs.

      EVERY TIME a sample is analyzed, it has turned out to be petrified wood, or some other Earthly material....kinda brings down the assumed value....

  3. Symon Silver badge
    Alien

    Re: The ongoing ruthless take backs.

    They obviously don't want us finding the WW2 bomber they've hidden up there.

    Full details documented here:-

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunday_Sport#/media/File:Sunday_Sport.jpg

    Not long later...

    http://www.anorak.co.uk/wp-content/gallery/sunday-sport/bomberonmoonsundaysport1.jpg

    1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      I suspect

      that some people around here might know about that.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    One small vial of dust for mankind, one giant leap for lawyerkind.

  5. Wolfclaw Silver badge

    COPUOUS - 1962/1967

    Space is free for all nations to explore, and sovereign claims cannot be made. Space activities must be for the benefit of all nations and humans.

    Most major players have signed this.

    The Moon Agreement - 1979 - Article 11

    The moon and its natural resources are the common heritage of mankind.

    The moon is not subject to national appropriation by any claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means

    Neither the surface nor the subsurface of the moon, nor any part thereof or natural resources in place, shall become property of any State, international intergovernmental or non- governmental organization, national organization or non-governmental entity or of any natural person

    None of the majpr players have signed up, too busy looking at the profit !

    1. Velv Silver badge

      So two things:

      1. It says nothing about who pays to retrieve any part of the Moon

      2. Does this prevent any organisation or person in procession of some Moon from selling it?

    2. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Nice idealistic treaty.

      But I think the last couple of minutes from 'Iron Sky' is far more likely or possibly a re-run of the East India Company that became defacto state.

      Bottom line, possession is 9/10ths - 'If you can stop anyone taking it off you, it's yours'

      1. Gordon861

        Re: Nice idealistic treaty.

        Iron Sky ... damn I wish they'd hurry and release part two.

    3. ravenviz Silver badge

      sovereign claims cannot be made

      Why did they put a flag on it then?

      1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

        Re: Why did they put a flag on it then?

        Or did they?

        (Yes, yes they did).

  6. Wellyboot Silver badge

    Heavy handed treatment for possession of dirt

    While the ownership of moon rock/dust/dirt brought (returned?) to earth via Apollo probably does rest with NASA, I see no reason to treat anyone else in possession immediately as a criminal, just show them a court order (supreme would be nice) saying it's ours - now hand it over and we'll be on our way.

    I doubt any recovered samples would be considered fit for analysis now beyond proving it is actually moon dust.

    On a lighter note, how did the astronauts get their trophies past officialdom in the first place?

    1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Re: Heavy handed treatment for possession of dirt

      On a lighter note, how did the astronauts get their trophies past officialdom in the first place?

      It was presumably a different place back then, when things were more relaxed, less lawyered-up. I imagine if an astronaut asked if they could keep some physical memento of their ventures it was often simply 'sure, why not'.

      Only later did they come to see that The Precious had escaped their clutches and, since then, seem to have ruthlessly attempted to take back everything they can.

    2. Gordon Pryra

      Re: Heavy handed treatment for possession of dirt

      "I doubt any recovered samples would be considered fit for analysis now beyond proving it is actually moon dust."

      Which is the problem, be embarrassing if the truth finally came out

    3. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Heavy handed treatment for possession of dirt

      My Dad cam home with a vial with a lump of moon rock in it that had been passed to the university he worked at. Never opened the vial but it came within 1/16th of an inch of my hand.

      Boring looking TBH, but what it did to my imagination!

  7. spold Bronze badge
    IT Angle

    It's probably just one of the pots of pepper he gave out to make people happy. Who is going to sprinkle it on their steak to find out?

    1. spold Bronze badge
      IT Angle

      ...well if it was moondust and I sprinkled it on my steak and ate it, then when I popped my clogs and was cremated then my surviving rellies would have a lot more to work with and could bottle me up for sale with a legitimate claim of "contains real moondust".

      1. Trumpet Winsock

        So a sort of " Homeopathic " Moon dust then.

    2. ravenviz Silver badge

      Re: IT?

      The article was posted in the Science section.

    3. A. Coatsworth
      Joke

      Don't do that!

      Moon dust is awfully carcinogen... great for all sorts of mad science, but carcinogen nonetheless... Ask Cave Johnson!

  8. Rusty 1
    Go

    Carousel

    So what's going to happen if some being from the moon comes to Earth, pilfers something pretty important/valuable and takes it home, only for someone from Earth to go to the moon and retrieve it?

    Finders keepers?

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: Carousel

      If being from the moon can stand up when they get here I'll be impressed :)

      Finders keepers indeed if you can make the round trip without being noticed! but what would be worth the cost?

      1. Rusty 1

        Re: Carousel

        All they have to do is nick, for example, all Van Gogh's works. As superior beings, they will have nailed teleportation (so the initial capture is easy); all the Earth-based compatriate has to do is get to the moon and back. For many oodles of mega $, that should be easy.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Carousel

          "All they have to do is nick, for example, all Van Gogh's works. As superior beings, they will have nailed teleportation (so the initial capture is easy); all the Earth-based compatriate has to do is get to the moon and back. For many oodles of mega $, that should be easy."

          Sounds like the plot for a 1980's 8-bit platformer :-)

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Artifacts, Not samples, rocks or dust.

    Who got the ray gun?

    1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

      Michael Collins

  10. DCFusor Silver badge

    Seems like

    They almost want to encourage the conspiracy nuts. Yeah, I get it that a market in fake moon or other space stuff would be bad as well (maybe a zillionth as bad as the drug market?), but gee, this is heavy handed. It's not like NASA was losing anything by not having this vial, or was planning on selling it to recoup costs...that, um, we taxpayers paid, not them.

  11. Locky Silver badge
    Facepalm

    "Armstrong - who was the first person to set foot on the Moon"

    Thanks El Reg, it's these insightful editorial nuggest of information that keep us all coming back for more

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: "Armstrong - who was the first person to set foot on the Moon"

      "Thanks El Reg, it's these insightful editorial nuggest of information that keep us all coming back for more"

      Well, it was a long time ago, probably before some of the readers were born. Are you feeling old yet?

      1. DiViDeD Silver badge

        Re: "Are you feeling old yet?"

        Worse than that is having coherent conversations about politics with people who were barely born when 9/11 happened.

  12. Androgynous Cow Herd
    Black Helicopters

    The real reason for NASA focus on soil samples

    NASA knows if that sample were analyzed by a good independent lab, the results would prove the sample came from the region around Area 51 where the moon landing was staged

  13. ken jay

    nasa hiding the truth the soil came from area 51 then

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "nasa hiding the truth the soil came from area 51 then"

      Nah, they did that at the even more secret Area 52. (also the title of the latest Ancient Aliens episode, so it must be true!)

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Looks like someone at NASA has read Moonseed and decided better safe than sorry.

  15. FlippingGerman

    Possession is...

    Who actually has the dust in their possession? Is she suing because NASA nicked it off her and she wants it back, or is this preemptive?

  16. StrangeEntities

    Nobody Owns Anything

    "The Earth does not belong to us: we belong to the Earth".

    Everything is ultimately made from non-material waves, so ownership is a fleeting illusion because there is nothing to own.

    1. Michael Habel Silver badge

      Re: Nobody Owns Anything

      That's deep you should send that into the Readers Digest. They got a page for people like you.

  17. B.Real

    The reason they must have the rocks and dust they claim fame from the Apollo Moon missions is quite simple. They lied to the world and never went to the moon. They were in low earth orbit the entire time. The rocks came from Antarctica. They went there right before Apollo to gather meteorites and took them back to NASA ceramics lab where they pulverized some to dust. That’s why it has earth dust mixed in. Moreover, some of the “moon” rocks they gave to various countries were eventually tested and were nothing more than petrified wood. So, to prevent more embarrassment, they want the fake samples back. Supposedly the moon is rich in rare metals and helium 3. If we could go to the moon, we would be there now.

    Think about it. It’s like the wright brothers 1st flight and 60 years later it still hasn’t been repeated.

  18. Michael Habel Silver badge

    I hear...

    A certin CEO over at Aperture Science would love to get his hands on the stuff.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Am sure I saw a documentary where someone had built a Lunamax prison to house undesirable Aliens?

  20. GnuTzu Bronze badge
    WTF?

    Ageist Elder Abuse by Law Enforcement?

    "the 74-year-old and her husband were grilled.. for two hours, where she wet herself after pleas to use the toilet were ignored."

    Indictments are needed.

  21. harmjschoonhoven
    WTF?

    Bah, moondust

    I go for the Allende meteorite with real interstellar microdiamonds ****.

  22. remyzero

    ummmm....who`s money does NASA spend ???????????????????

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