Moon dust-stained bag expected to fetch millions at auction

Neil Armstrong's giant leap for mankind onto the moon allowed him to make several small scoops there as well. Collecting lunar dust and rocks in a specially designed decontamination bag to bring home, the rocks became national treasures.  

The bag -- not so much. It was forgotten about until resurfacing three years ago on a government auction website that space enthusiast Nancy Carlson liked to check out. 

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The bag used to bring moon rocks home from Neil Armstrong's 1969 moon landing.

CBS News

"I did see a bag that was described as a lunar bag," she said. "Flown. With a number on it. And it included the word moon dust." 

She quickly slapped down her $995, and a week later a brown box arrived. Inside the box: history.

Carlson said she "loves it" because "it was like finding the Holy Grail."

But "found" was almost "lost" again for Carlson. She'd matched a number on the bag to one on the Apollo 11 flight manifest, but wanted to be absolutely sure. She sent her bag off to NASA so it could test the dust embedded in the fabric.

"And that was where things started to go off the rails, to put it nicely," Carlson said. 

NASA told Carlson that yes, her bag had been to the moon, but no, they would not be returning it since -- they said -- it never should've been sold to start with. Carlson had to sue to get her bag back. 

She won, though the publicity convinced her the bag won't be safe in her home. So on Thursday, the 48th anniversary of the moon landing, Carlson will auction it off.

Cassandra Hatton, who is handling the sale for Sotheby's, said it is "absolutely" a one-of-kind item. 

"I just say Neil Armstrong moon dust -- you get it," Hatton says. "You don't have to be American to understand why this is so important and this is also what's exciting about this. I could talk to a 5-year-old in China, and they would get excited about this."

The bag is expected to fetch $2-4 million -- not a bad return on Carlson's $995 investment.

"I found a piece of history that everybody forgot about," Carlson says. "So that's my great gratification in all this. I saved it from being lost."

Nearly half a century later, thanks to Nancy Carlson's internet trolling, there's a new footnote to the greatest adventure story in human history.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the anchor of the Saturday edition of the "CBS Evening News" and a national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley" and other CBS News broadcasts.