Late last month we talked a bit about the Sotheby’s auction that would see one of the only confirmed real pieces of the moon sold to the highest bidder. These Russian samples were fitted inside a fancy case with lenses for inspection. Russia brought the samples to Earth in September 1970 via the Luna-16 mission.
The samples were originally given to Ninan Ivanova Koroleva, the widow of Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, the former chief designer, and director of the Soviet space program. The samples sold in 1993 for $442,500. This time the samples brought in $855,000 at the auction, a nice payday for their former owner.
The pre-auction estimates for the samples were between $700,000 and $1 million. The reason these samples were so valuable is that they are the only non-government owned samples in existence that have a documented providence and are confirmed as real. Most moon rocks that go to auction are found to be fakes.
Some of the samples brought back in earlier missions have been given as gifts. The catch is that while they were given away, those samples remain under the control of the US and Russian governments and can’t be sold. The samples that Sotheby’s sold are the only samples that are owned by a private individual.
Moon samples are very rare, thus the value of this auction. In total, all six US Apollo missions returned only 842 pounds of lunar samples with the Soviet missions sending back a scant 10.6-ounces.