A Tennessee woman is suing NASA in order to keep a vial of moon dust gifted to her family by Neil Armstrong.
Laura Cicco filed a lawsuit on June 6 to claim ownership over the dust in a pre-emptive move against NASA, worried that the space agency would attempt to seize it, given its position on ownership of lunar material, reported the Kansas City Star.
In around 1972, Cicco’s mother handed a vial full of grey dust to 10-year-old Cicco, then named Laura Murry, and a note that read, “To Laura Ann Murray—Best of luck—Neil Armstrong Apollo 11.”
She was told it was moon dust and a gift from a friend of her father, the first man who had stepped on the moon, the Star reported.
Cicco had not seen the vial for decades, until five years ago, when going through her late parents’ possessions.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in Kansas seeks to affirm Cicco’s ownership under the Declaratory Judgment Act of the United States Code.
Cicco initiated proceedings proactively against NASA, which has not yet tried to claim the item, because of the agency’s position that all lunar material belongs to the U.S. government.
“Laura was rightfully given this stuff by Neil Armstrong so it’s hers and we just want to establish that legally,” Cicco’s lawyer, Chris McHugh, told the Star.
According to court documents, Armstrong was friends with Cicco’s father, Tom Murray, a pilot for the U.S. Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration. They were both reportedly members of the Quiet Birdmen, a secret club for male aviators. In around 1970 the former astronaut gifted the vial of dust to his friend’s daughter, signing the note on the back of Murray’s business card.
The signature on the note has been authenticated to be that of Armstrong’s by an expert, the lawsuit says, according to the Star.
After conducting tests on the dust, an expert concluded that the sample “may have originated” from the moon’s surface, said court documents, reported the Washington Post.
While noting that some dust from Earth may have “mingled with this likely lunar sample,” the analyst said “it would be difficult to rule out lunar origin.”
McHugh said the vial of dust was moved to an undisclosed secure location in Kansas in anticipation of the court case.
Last year, a court ordered NASA to return a space bag containing moon dust to a collector who had bought it after it was mistakenly listed on an online auction. The bag later sold for $1.8 million at auction.
NASA declined requests by media outlets for comments, citing the pending litigation.