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For Sale: A small sample of the moon brought back to earth in 1969 by the Apollo 11 astronauts, the first humans to walk on the lunar surface.
Condition: Well Traveled and once digested. The dust was carefully extracted from the stomachs of cockroaches (opens in new tab). Three of the insects are included in the lot.
That’s more or less what’s now being offered by RR Auction, a New Hampshire-based company specializing in space memorabilia. The moondust eaten by cockroaches (opens in new tab) is among the highlights of RR’s Notable Rarities Auction, which opened for bids on Thursday (May 26) and runs through June 23.
“Whenever we represent something from Apollo 11 it’s obviously exciting because it’s the most important mission, but when you get something like roaches that have been fed lunar material it just goes to show how diverse the Apollo program was,” Bobby Livingston, RR Auction Executive Vice President, told CollectSPACE. “For any of us who was 12 or 13 and had a science class, it’s not ‘gross’ at all. That’s incredible.”
Related: NASA Fed Roaches Moon Rocks From Apollo 11 (And Then It Got Even Stranger)
To understand how and why part of the moon got into the digestive tracks Blattella germanicaor German cockroaches, you need a short story about moon bugs.
Ahead of the first mission to land humans on the moon, scientists weren’t quite sure what to expect for the astronauts. For example, although robotic probes were sent ahead to test landings on the lunar surface, there were some mission planners who feared that the lander or astronauts would sink into a quicksand-like, thick layer of earth that covered the moon.
For this reason, tethers and other precautions were designed to ensure that Apollo 11 crewmate Neil Armstrong (opens in new tab) and Buzz Aldrin (opens in new tab) could make a hasty exit from the moon if necessary.
While most biologists were absolutely certain that the moon was devoid of native life, they couldn’t entirely rule out that the astronauts would bring back germs — or “moon bugs” — that could threaten all life on Earth. So the crew, their spaceship and anything returning with them were quarantined for 21 days (opens in new tab) from the moment they left the moon to weeks after their triumphant landing.
Inside the Lunar Receiving Laboratory, a special facility NASA built to isolate the lunar people and material (opens in new tab) From the outside world, the astronauts underwent medical exams while a menagerie of invertebrate creatures — from fish to mice to, yes, cockroaches — were exposed to moon rocks and dust to see how they would react.
About 10% of the 47.5 pounds (22 kilograms) of lunar rock returned from the Apollo 11 mission (opens in new tab) was allocated for the destructive tests. Once fed to the fish and insects, no one expected to see this lunar material again.
None except Marion Brooks (later Brooks-Wallace), an entomologist from the University of St. Paul who was hired by NASA to further study moondust-drunk cockroaches. Although the quarantine period had expired and none of the animals (or astronauts) had died as a result of exposure to the moon, the space agency wanted a more complete understanding of any potential adverse effects the extraterrestrial material could be causing.
So while other researchers around the world waited to obtain moon rocks and pristine moon dust for study, Brooks was the first to be entrusted with moon samples, albeit in eight preserved cockroaches.
“Pickled roaches,” she told the Minneapolis Tribune in 1969.
Although she described seeing the lunar dust in the insects with the naked eye, Brooks dissected them to prepare tissue sections for microscopic examination. She worked with a group of roaches fed a “half-and-half” diet of raw lunar regolith and regular food, alongside a set that ingested sterilized lunar dirt.
“I found no evidence of infectious agents,” she told the newspaper at the time, adding that she also found no evidence that the lunar soil was toxic or dangerous to the cockroaches.
Despite being in clean health, Brooks continued her studies and kept the slides and cockroach carcasses.
The Moon on Earth: Where Are NASA’s Apollo Moon Rocks Now?
Mounted lunar souvenirs
Brooks retired from the university in 1986, but some time before that she took with her the remnants of her lunar work – one of the tissue sections, a newspaper clipping describing her studies, a postcard of the Manned Spacecraft Center (now the Johnson Space Center). (opens in new tab)) in Houston, took a replica of the Apollo 11 plaque left on the moon and a stamped commemorative envelope (or “envelope”) – and arranged them in a sample holder.
In the center of the display, Brooks placed a small glass vial containing “ground fines from lunar samples recovered from biological testing” and three of the preserved ones Blattella germanica cockroaches.
She then hung the mementos on a wall in her home, where they stayed for many years. Brooks died at her home in 2007 at the age of 89.
Three years later, the sample exhibit, along with two boxes of “Microscope Slides Made by Cockroaches Fed Moon Rocks,” for a total of 66 more slides, was purchased from the former Regency-Superior Galleries of Beverly Hills for $10,000 auctioned, California.
The vial in the display contains about 0.0014 ounces (40 milligrams) of material. In April of this year, Bonhams auctioned off a microscopic sample of Apollo 11 moondust (opens in new tab) – so small it couldn’t be weighed – for $504,375. In this case, the lunar samples had been released to a collector by NASA after a series of lawsuits.
As another point of reference, three tiny pebbles weighing a total of about 0.0007 ounces (0.2 grams) brought back from the moon in 1970 by the former Soviet Union’s robotic Luna 16 spacecraft were sold by Sotheby’s for $855,000 (opens in new tab) in 2018.
RR Auction estimates his lot, a resale of the 2010 Regency-Superior offering, is now selling for $400,000. The bidding opened Thursday morning at $10,000.
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https://www.livescience.com/apollo-11-moon-dust-cockroaches-auction Cockroach-eaten Apollo 11 moon dust goes up for auction