Last year Sotheby's sold a zippered bag stamped with the words "Lunar Sample Return" laced with moon dust which was used by Neil Armstrong for the first manned mission to the moon in 1969, for $1.8 million.
The lot is expected to fetch between $700,000 and $1 million during a Sotheby's auction titled Space Exploration, taking place in NY on November 29. But this is a Soviet sample, and according to Sotheby's, the rock "is the only known, documented lunar sample to have been gifted to a private individual".
That sale took place after NASA lost a court battle to retrieve the artifact from a private collection.
Samples of the moon collected by the Soviet Union and the United States have typically remained in the government's possession, and laws prevent public gifts - like the moon samples gifted to other countries by the Nixon administration - from being transferred to individuals.
According to Sotheby's, however, the sample up for auction was ceremonially presented to Nina Ivanovna Koroleva, widow of Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, one of the early designers and directors of the Soviet space program in the 1950s and 1960s. The buyer, who remains anonymous, has owned the samples, which are encased under glass below an adjustable lens and labeled "ЧАСТИЦЫ ГРУНТА ЛУНЫ-16" (Soil Particles from Luna-16), for the past 25 years. The high price is due to the rarity of lunar soil samples.
"It was the first time a piece of another world had ever been offered for sale to the public", Sotheby's said of that sale. The U.S. collected lunar soil samples during the Apollo 11-17 missions, while the USSR (succeeded by the Russian Federation) gathered them during the Luna-16, -20, and -24 missions.
The spacecraft consisted of two stages - an ascent stage to propel the sample container back to Earth, and a descent stage to provide course corrections, lunar orbit insertion and the landing manoeuvre.