NEW YORK -- A bag containing traces of moon dust sold for $1.8 million at an auction on Thursday following a galactic court battle.
The collection bag, used by astronaut Neil Armstrong during the first manned mission to the moon in 1969, was sold at a Sotheby's auction of items related to space voyages. The buyer declined to be identified. The pre-sale estimate was $2 million to $4 million.
The artifact from the Apollo 11 mission had been misidentified and sold at an online government auction, and NASA had fought to get it back. But in December a federal judge ruled that it legally belonged to a Chicago-area woman who bought it in 2015 for $995.
Sotheby's declined to identify the seller. However, details of the 2015 purchase were made public during the court case.
Investigators unknowingly hit the moon mother lode in 2003 while searching the garage of a man later convicted of stealing and selling museum artifacts, including some that were on loan from NASA.
The 12-by-8-inch (30-by-20-centimeter) bag was misidentified and sold at an online government auction.
Nancy Carlson, of Inverness, Illinois, got an ordinary-looking bag made of white Beta cloth and polyester with rubberized nylon and a brass zipper.
Carlson, a collector, knew the bag had been used in a space flight, but she didn't know which one. She sent it to NASA for testing, and the government agency, discovering its importance, fought to keep it.
The artifact "belongs to the American people," NASA said then.
U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten, in Wichita, Kansas, said that while it shouldn't have gone up for auction he didn't have the authority to reverse the sale. He ordered the government to return it.
The judge said the importance and desirability of the bag stemmed solely from the efforts of NASA employees whose "amazing technical achievements, skill and courage in landing astronauts on the moon and returning them safely have not been replicated in the almost half a century since the Apollo 11 landing."
When it comes to moon landings, Thursday's auction is far from the final frontier.
A group called For All Moonkind Inc. mentioned the moon bag this week while campaigning for "measures to preserve and protect the six Apollo lunar landing sites." It plans to take up the issue next month at the Starship Congress 2017 in California.
Also getting out-of-this-world interest at the auction was the Flown Apollo 13 Flight Plan, with handwritten notations by all three crew members. It sold to an online bidder for $275,000, well above its pre-sale estimate high of $40,000.
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