Neil Armstrong's moon bag to fetch up to $4 million at auction

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The long-lost bag used by U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong to bring back to Earth the first samples of moon dust is expected to sell for up to $4 million when it is auctioned with other space memorabilia next week in New York City.

The sale at international art auction house Sotheby's also features the Apollo 13 flight plan annotated by its crew, a spacesuit worn by U.S. astronaut Gus Grissom, and lunar photographs taken by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The auction will be held on July 20, the 48th anniversary of the first moon landing, and organizers hope it will draw large crowds.

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Neil Armstrong's moon bag
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Neil Armstrong's moon bag
Sothebys Cassandra Hatton displays the Apollo 11 Contingency Lunar Sample Return Bag, used by Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11 to bring back the very first pieces of the moon ever collected, during a media preview for Space Exploration auction in New York on July 13, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
The Apollo 11 Contingency Lunar Sample Return Bag, used by Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11 to bring back the very first pieces of the moon ever collected, is displayed during a media preview for Space Exploration auction in New York on July 13, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Sothebys Cassandra Hatton adjusts the Apollo 11 Contingency Lunar Sample Return Bag, used by Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11 to bring back the very first pieces of the moon ever collected, during a media preview for Space Exploration auction in New York on July 13, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Sothebys Cassandra Hatton displays the Apollo 11 Contingency Lunar Sample Return Bag, used by Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11 to bring back the very first pieces of the moon ever collected, during a media preview for Space Exploration auction in New York on July 13, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Sothebys Cassandra Hatton adjusts the Apollo 11 Contingency Lunar Sample Return Bag, used by Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11 to bring back the very first pieces of the moon ever collected, during a media preview for Space Exploration auction in New York on July 13, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Sothebys Cassandra Hatton adjusts the Apollo 11 Contingency Lunar Sample Return Bag, used by Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11 to bring back the very first pieces of the moon ever collected, during a media preview for Space Exploration auction in New York on July 13, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
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"It (space) is one of few subjects that I think are not culturally specific. It doesn't matter your religion, where you're from, what language you speak," Cassandra Hatton, a vice president and senior specialist at Sotheby's, said on Wednesday.

"We all have the common experience of staring up at the sky and wondering what's going on amongst the stars."

The fate of the bag, which measures 12 inches by 8.5 inches and is labeled "Lunar Sample Return", was unknown for decades after Armstrong and his Apollo 11 crew came home in July 1969.

For years it sat in a box, unidentified, at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Hatton said.

It ultimately surfaced in the garage of the manager of a Kansas museum, Max Ary, who was convicted of its theft in 2014, according to court records.

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Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin
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Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin
376713 09: (FILE PHOTO) The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has named these three astronauts as the prime crew of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission. Left to right, are Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot. The 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon mission is celebrated July 20, 1999. (Photo by NASA/Newsmakers)
A portrait of Neil Armstrong aboard the Lunar Module Eagle on the lunar surface just after the first moon walk. (Photo by � Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
Model of the Gemini 8 spacecraft.
View of astronaut's footprint in lunar soil. Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin were launched to the moon on July 16, 1969.
(Original Caption) Apollo 11 Spacecraft Commander, Neil Armstrong, suited up in preparation for a practice at the Space Center, of lunar activities, April 1969. Apollo 11 is scheduled for launch July 16th in the first U.S. space mission to land two astronauts on the surface of the moon.
Bob Hope and Astronaut Neil Armstrong perform for members of the 25th Infantry Division in December, 1969. Cu Chi, Vietnam. (Photo by � CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Former astronaut Neil Armstrong responds to a question as committee chairman William Rogers looks on, as they testify before the House and Technology Committee.
From left to right, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin, Jr. pose for a portrait in their space suits in front of a backdrop showing the Moon. The three astronauts have been named as the prime crew of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. May 1969. | Location: Manned Spacecraft Center, Houston, Texas, USA. (Photo by � CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama speaks with the first man on the moon Neil Armstrong (2nd R), and fellow Apollo 11 crewmembers Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin (L) and Michael Collins (C) during a meeting on the 40th anniversary of NASA's first human landing on the moon in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, July 20, 2009. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Neil Armstrong in the cockpit of the command module on Apollo 11, on his way to the Moon. | Location: aboard Apollo 11, between Earth and the Moon. (Photo by � Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Apollo 11 Spacecraft Commander Neil Armstrong in the spacesuit as he will appear on the lunar surface. A camera is attached to his chest area giving him full use of his arms, the backpack gives oxygen, pressurization and temperature control. The Apollo 11 Lunar Landing mission is scheduled for launch July 16th.
Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong talks about the launch of Apollo 11 on the 30th anniversary of the event at the Kennedy Space Center July 16. [Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins flew aboard the craft. ]Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon.
Former astronaut Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11, testifies before the House Science and Technology committee hearing on Review of the Proposed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Human Space Flight Plan, on Capitol Hill in Washington May 26, 2010. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCI TECH POLITICS)
Crew members of the Apollo 11 stand as they meet with U.S. President Barack Obama on the 40th anniversary of the moon landing in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington July 20, 2009. The members are Buzz Aldrin (L), Michael Collins and Neil Armstrong (R). REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES POLITICS)
Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong (L), Michael Collins and Elrin Aldrin smile through the window of the mobile quarantine van in this NASA handout image dated July 24, 1969. REUTERS/NASA/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong is suited for a training exercise at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston in this April 18, 1969 handout photo courtesy of NASA. REUTERS/NASA/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Apollo 11 astronauts Edwin Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong are seen during a trip to Sierra Blanca, New Mexico in this February 24, 1969 handout photo courtesy of NASA. REUTERS/NASA/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Neil Armstrong greets friends after being released from quarantine in this August 10, 1969 handout photo courtesy of NASA. Deke Slayton is in the doorway behind Armstrong. REUTERS/NASA/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Neil Armstrong poses with an X-15 aircraft at the Dryden Flight Research Center in California, in this undated handout photo courtesy of NASA. Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, has died at the age of 82, his family said on Saturday. The former astronaut underwent a heart-bypass surgery earlier this month, just two days after his birthday on Aug. 5, to relieve blocked coronary arteries. REUTERS/NASA Dryden Flight Research Center/Handout (UNITED STATES)
Photos for a public memorial service for U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong are pictured at the Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio August 29, 2012. Armstrong, who took a giant leap for mankind when he became the first person to walk on the moon, has died at the age of 82, his family said on Saturday. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY OBITUARY PROFILE)
Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins speaks during the 'Legends of Apollo' media in Cocoa Beach, Florida on July 16, 2019, as NASA celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the landing on the Moon. (Photo by Gregg Newton / AFP) (Photo credit should read GREGG NEWTON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - JULY 21: U.S. President George W. Bush (2nd L) meets with Apollo 11 astronauts Michael Collins (L) Neil Armstrong (2nd R) and Buzz Aldrin (R) in the Oval Office at the White House, July 21, 2004 in Washington, DC. The astronauts are celebrating the 35th anniversary of the first lunar landing on July 20, 1969. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
F 354709 001 20Jul99 Arlington, Virginia (677826) The Crew Members Of Nasa Apollo 11 Mission At Special Ceremony For 30Th Anniversary Of 1St Man To Walk On The Moon. Michael Collins, Left, Buzz Aldrin, Center, And Neil Armstrong, The Mission Commander And First Man To Walk On The Moon, At The Newseum. (Photo By Epix/Getty Images)
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, UNITED STATES: Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong (L) makes a point to the media as Apollo 11 crewmember Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin (C) and Apollo 17 Commander Gene Cernan (R) listen 16 July, 1999 in a replica of the Apollo/Saturn 5 launch control room at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Thirty years ago on 16 July 1969, Armstrong, Aldrin and Michael Collins were launched on a journey to the Moon where Armstrong and Aldrin would be the first and second men to set foot there respectively while Cernan would be the last to walk there. AFP PHOTO/Bruce WEAVER (Photo credit should read BRUCE WEAVER/AFP/Getty Images)
Apollo 11's astronauts marked the tenth anniversary of man's first landing on the moon with a news conference at the National Air and Space Museum. Standing in front of the lunar module are, (L-R) Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin. (Photo by © Bettmann/CORBIS/Bettmann Archive)
Pres. Clinton (fore) shaking hands w. Apollo 11 astronauts (L-R) Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin & Michael Collins in 25th moon landing anniv. fete at WH. (Photo by Diana Walker//The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images)
375811 01: Astronauts Michael Collins, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong stand together on July 20, 1979 at the White House. They celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, during which the three astronauts became the first humans to conduct a lunar landing and safely return to Earth eight days after their July 20, 1969 launch. (Photo by Michael Evans/Liaison)
(Original Caption) Cincinnati, Oh.: Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, steps from his office on the University of Cincinnati campus for his first day as a professor. The former astronaut has forsaken a career in industry for the university life where he will be an instructor in the engineering department at U.S.
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 1: (AUSTRALIA OUT) A reception is held in Hyde Park for the Apollo 11 astronauts who landed on the moon, Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, on November 1, 1969 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by George Lipman/The Sydney Morning Herald/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)
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The bag was seized by the U.S. Marshals Service which put it up for auction three times, drawing no bids, until it was bought in 2015 for $995 by a Chicago-area attorney, Nancy Lee Carlson.

She sent the bag to NASA for authentication, and when tests revealed it was used by Armstrong and still had moon dust traces inside, the U.S. space agency decided to keep it.

Carlson successfully sued NASA to get the bag back, and the attention created by her legal challenge prompted many inquiries from potential buyers, according to Sotheby's. That led Carlson to decide to auction it again.

Hatton said she was sure the bag would find a good home. Such artifacts usually go through the hands of several different owners over the years, she added.

"Just know that the kind of person that would pay money like this for this item is going to take excellent care of it," Hatton said. "Nothing is lost forever."

(Reporting by Taylor Harris; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Diane Craft)

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