A Tennessee woman is suing NASA to keep what she says is moon dust. Laura Cicco claims astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, gave her the vial of moon dust when she was a child. The question now is whether she could be forced to give it back to NASA.
Armstrong's 1969 moonwalk made him world-famous, but not to 10-year-old Laura in 1972.
"My mom handed me my dad's business card….And she said 'turn it over' and on the back was Neil Armstrong's autograph," Laura recalled to CBS News' Mark Strassmann.
According to Laura, her father Tom Murray was friends with the first man on the moon through aviation circles. She says Armstrong passed on a vial with gray stuff inside; her parents told her it was dust from the moon.
She grew up, became Laura Cicco, and forgot all about it. But five years ago after her parents died, she opened up her mother's hope chest in the attic.
"When I opened it I knew immediately what it was… And I said this is it and my husband Chris said 'This is what?' I said 'The moon dust!'" Laura said.
Cicco learned something else about NASA: the space agency considers all lunar material government property and has a history of tracking down any that falls into the wrong hands. But first, was her moon dust even real? She contacted lawyer Christopher McHugh, and he had it tested.
The autograph was authentic but lab testing on the dust was less conclusive. One test found "no evidence to rule out a lunar origin" while another found it was similar to the "average crust of earth" or, perhaps, earth dust mixed with moon dust.
"We've speculated that this might be a sample that was vacuumed off a space suit," McHugh said.
That was enough for McHugh to file a pre-emptive lawsuit against NASA, demanding Laura be declared the rightful owner.
"I didn't want her to be in a situation where she felt like she had to hide… Because if NASA finds out about it they will come kick your door in," McHugh said.
A spokesperson for NASA told CBS News in an email that the agency was unable to comment. Space historian Robert Pearlman was more talkative.
"Great claims require great evidence and there's not a lot of great evidence in this case," Pearlman said.
He suspects Laura's moon dust is pixie dust – not real. He said Armstrong knew better than to keep lunar material and never gave it away to anyone.
"To our knowledge he never gave moon dust to his sons, he never gave moon dust to his first or second wife. He never gave moon dust to his crewmates. I've worked with Buzz Aldrin. I know he doesn't have any," Pearlman said.
But Laura swears her dust, and her story, are real. A federal court could decide whether Laura is asking for the moon.
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