There’s some dirt being kicked up about some alleged moon dust a Tennessee woman claims was given to her by the late astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon.
The woman, Laura Cicco, launched a pre-emptive legal strike recently in what could be a court battle with the United States government. Cicco filed a federal lawsuit against NASA, asking a court to declare her the rightful owner of the alleged moon dust stored in a vial. That’s a smart move, since all lunar material is deemed to be U.S. government property – and since NASA has a history of trying to gain lunar material from some citizens previously.
I keep saying “alleged” because experts have not been able to say, without a doubt, that the dust is from the moon. According to multiple reports, including one by CBS News: “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.” At the same time, the autograph of Armstrong she had was authenticated. That may lend some credence to her story.
So, how does a kid – now, a grown-up – come up with an authentic Armstrong autograph and what she believes is moon dust?
Cicco said her father, Tom Murray, was friends with Armstrong. Cicco also said her mother gave her one of her father’s business cards, which had Armstrong’s signature on it. CBS News reported Cicco’s claim that Armstrong passed on a vial with gray stuff inside; her parents told her it was dust from the moon. Cicco said she forgot about it as the years went by, and rediscovered the vial five years ago after her parents died. It was reportedly in her mother’s hope chest in the attic.
While NASA spokespeople aren’t saying anything about this case, space historian Robert Pearlman has a lot to say. Without calling her a fraud, Pearlman said he does not think the gray matter inside the vial is moon dust. He doesn’t believe Armstrong would take lunar material. Here’s what he told CBS News about Armstrong: “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.
Cicco’s attorney, Christopher McHugh – who has been involved in other lunar material cases, speculated publicly that the moon dust might be “a sample that was vacuumed off a space suit.”
Here’s my theory. Cicco isn’t lying. She was given Armstrong’s autograph. Her father may have been friends with Armstrong. And, when she was a young schoolgirl, Cicco’s parents probably did tell her that the vial contained moon dust when they gave her the vial.
Maybe her parents really believed it was dust from the moon. Or, maybe they told her it was moon dust for the same reason lots of parents tell their children about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy. Ahhh, the magical power of believing!
And like those other characters often introduced into children’s lives, perhaps Cicco’s parents meant to debunk the dust myth when she got older – but they all simply forgot about the vial. (Although I must say: If I had something so awesome, I would ALWAYS know where it was. ALWAYS. Even if I didn’t display it prominently, I would ALWAYS know its location).
Going back to the tests … results from one of the tests indicated that it could be earth dust mixed with moon dust. But even if Armstrong had just a little moon dust, why wouldn’t he have given any to his children or either of his two wives? Why give it to someone else’s child?
Yes, Cicco literally made a federal case out of this. For that, I thank her.
Maybe this legal case will lead us to more conclusive answers about the gray matter in the vial. Cutting-edge scientific testing and experts are often part of these sort of civil cases, as each side attempts to assert or defend its legal position in a dispute.
I’ll be watching this case closely – just like I used to closely watch the skies as a child enthralled with anything and everything about astronomy and outer space.