Several decades ago, a 10-year-old girl named Laura Ann Murray received a rather unexpected gift from her mother — a vial of moon dust that apparently came from Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong himself. Now a married woman going by the name Laura Cicco, she is reportedly suing NASA to ensure that she can keep the vial before the space agency makes an attempt to claim ownership over it.
According to a report from the Washington Post, Cicco held on to the handwritten note from Armstrong which wished her the “best of luck,” but didn’t see the vial again until five years ago, when she was sorting through he belongings of her late parents. She recalled excitedly telling her husband about the vial, yet not being sure what to do with it.
Last Wednesday, Cicco finally took action, filing a lawsuit in federal court and maintaining that Armstrong, who had been part of a “secretive” male pilot’s club with her father, gifted her the supposed moon dust in the 1970s, at a time when he was teaching aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati, with the Murray family also living in the city.
While NASA has been known to take suspected lunar material from private citizens, as noted by Laura Murray Cicco’s lawyer, Christopher McHugh, there is no law that forbids private citizens from keeping materials believed to have come from previous trips to the moon. As further proof of his client being the legal owner of the vial of moon dust, McHugh added that Cicco kept the note from Armstrong, which had been verified as legitimate by a handwriting expert.
“What NASA is essentially saying is that lunar material in private hands is stolen property. And that’s just not true. This is not stolen property. Laura shouldn’t be afraid that NASA is going to come knocking on her door and barge in and try and take the vial.”
Tests run on the suspected moon dust suggest that experts are divided on whether the material was legitimately from a past moon mission. Multiple tests hinted that the material is consistent with how soil should be on the moon’s surface, though one had cast doubt on the authenticity of the material and stated that it was “similar to the average crust of Earth.” That expert, however, added that he found it hard to “rule out lunar origin,” adding that Earthbound dust might have blended in with the purported lunar content.
Laura Murray Cicco isn’t the only private citizen to have sued NASA over items from previous moon mission in their possession. The Washington Post cited the example of a California woman named Joann Davis, who made the similar claim that Neil Armstrong gave her late first husband, Robert Davis, two paperweights with a tiny amount of “moonrock” in it, and a fragment from Apollo 11’s heat shield.
In 2011, she enlisted NASA’s help in trying to sell the paperweights after having “fallen on hard times,” but instead was informed by an agency official that she was in possession of “contraband or stolen” government property. She and her second husband were allegedly lured to a Denny’s restaurant by an informant posing as a broker, only for them to be arrested and questioned by federal agents for the next two hours. Davis, who was not charged with any crime, sued NASA for different constitutional violations in 2013, with an appeals court judge ruling against the agency’s criminal investigator.