It was a disappointing decision for the space agency, which said in a statement that the one-of-a-kind artifact “was never meant to be owned by an individual.”
The lawyer, Nancy Carlson, is now putting it up for auction at Sotheby’s.
The $4 million expectation could be low, according to Cassandra Hatton, a vice president and senior specialist at Sotheby’s. With an “exceptionally rare” piece like this, the sky is really the limit, she said.
“This bag is not only from the first mission, but it was used by the first man to set foot on the moon, and it held the first samples that were collected,” she said. “So it’s the first of the first of the first.”
Many other souvenirs from the Apollo 11 moon-landing mission, including the command module, are on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. But the bag first slipped through the cracks after it was lent to a Kansas space museum called the Cosmosphere, according to a December decision written by J. Thomas Marten of the U.S. District Court in Wichita, Kan.
Max Ary, who ran the museum, resigned in 2002. After that, it was discovered that some of the artifacts, including the moon bag, were missing.
The bag was found in Mr. Ary’s garage in 2003; two years later, he was convicted on multiple counts of fraud, theft and money laundering.
The critical error came when the bag was turned over to the government. It was identified as a different bag — one that had not been used to collect moon rocks — because of “a mix-up in inventory lists and item numbers,” according to Judge Marten’s decision.
The government included it in an online auction, and in February 2015, Ms. Carlson saw it and bought it, not knowing the true value.
The story might have ended there had she not sent the bag to the Johnson Space Center in Houston to check its…