In the space chronicle, the auctions of equipment and objects that the astronauts have brought with them well deserve their own chapter. There is material to bore you, including robberies, undersold lots, court battles and million-dollar sales worthy of the best crime novel. However, few bids are as crazy as the one just launched by the firm RR Auction. The reason: one of the star pieces of his lot is three cockroaches powered by moon dust collected during the Apollo 11 mission.
It sounds quirky, and I miss it; but there are those who have already pulled the checkbook to get the peculiar space memory. The auction opened three days ago and has already received two offers that raise the bid to $11,000. Whoever wants to beat them will have to put $12,100 on the table.
If you are interested, you still have almost a month to call the bank: the process will remain open until June 23. Of course, RR Auction trusts that the final amount ends up multiplying until adding a few more digits. Given what has been paid not so long ago for other microscopic samples of extraterrestrial regolith, the American company believes Collect Space— that his sample could well fetch $400,000.
digested alien dust
In addition to the three cockroaches Blattella germanicathe lot incorporates a vial with the digested dust extracted from the insects and two cases with glass microscope slides that include histological samples, as well as several souvenirs linked to his research and Apollo 11.
The million dollar question at this point, of course, is: Where did those moondust-fed cockroaches come from? To answer it, we need to go back to the end of the 1960s and remember one of the great concerns that NASA had at that time, almost as peculiar as the RR Auction, but completely understandable if we take into account the context: that the astronauts of the Apollo 11 will return to our planet from its pioneering mission to the Moon with unknown microorganisms that could compromise life on Earth.
Most scientists were sure that there was no life on our satellite and that the risk of the crew returning home with germs—“moon bugs,” as Buzz Aldrin himself ironically dubbed them—was remote; but since it was the first time that a group of humans had been in direct contact with another surface of space, there was little concern.
Result: NASA authorities decided to apply a rigorous security protocol. The Apollo 11 crew underwent tests and a three-week quarantine and part of the 22 kilos of moon rock that they had brought with them was dedicated to testing to see if it was dangerous.
The space agency specifically decided to use 10% of those samples to clear up doubts and demonstrate that it did not pose any more risk than the dust accumulated on any uncleaned furniture. Some of that regolith was given to scientists who exposed it to microscopic organisms, fish… and insects, critters that were fed a combination of food and selenic particles. The idea was to check how they reacted, if they got sick or showed any abnormality.
Once the first experiments were completed and to settle the matter, NASA asked Dr. marion brooks, an entomologist at the University of St. Paul, to thoroughly study the cockroaches that had fed on the alien specks. Her task was to prepare histological sections, present them on slides and look for any signs that would set off alarms.
The conclusion was the same: the regolith was there, inside the cockroaches; but no adverse effect was seen on their cells. The powder used in the experiment was considered lost, so Brooks kept all the material, including the insects that were still intact and the regolith converted to chyme. He kept them in his own house, where he stayed for years, until his death in 2007. Some time later that peculiar inheritance was sold at auction for $10,000.
Now it is available again for those who are passionate about space history.
Images | RR Auction
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism