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Stolen Apollo 11 Moon Dust Recovered

ST. LOUIS, Missouri ~ (New York Times/BBC News) ~ NASA officials have recovered a scattering of moon dust stolen from the US space agency after the 1969 Apollo 11 mission just before it was about to go up for auction.

The US Justice Department and NASA discovered the dust, affixed to a piece of tape, at a St. Louis auction house earlier this month. "It wasn't much to look at but I'll never be this close to the moon again," said Richard Callahan, US attorney for eastern Missouri. It is illegal for an American citizen to possess moon rocks, dust or samples retrieved by the Apollo missions without special permission.

According to the auction material distributed by the Justice Department, back in 1969 NASA photographer Terry Slezak was in charge of processing film from the Hasselblad cameras used by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Apollo 11 moon mission. After he opened one of the film magazines he noticed his hands were covered in lunar dust. The incident made Slezak the first human to ever touch the moon soil with bare hands. He cleaned the dust from the darkroom and film using towels and tape; afterward he kept a small scrap of the tape, he told the New York Times. Later he attached the tape to a poster signed by the Apollo 11 astronauts. Slezak sold that poster at an auction in Germany in 2001 and said he was never questioned by NASA officials.

Federal officials tracked down the lunar dust earlier this month, which was listed for sale by Regency-Superior Auctions of St. Louis. NASA investigators contacted the auction house, who agreed to remove the item from the sale. The owner of the dust was not involved in the original purchase and has no idea how her late husband acquired the space artifact, but did agree to give it back to NASA. "Upon learning that the material had been stolen from NASA years earlier, she immediately and graciously agreed to relinquish it back to the American people," the US attorney's office said.

Photo credit: NASA/JPL: Terry Slezak with lunar dust on his fingers in 1969

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