Tennessee woman suing NASA over moon dust

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(CBS) -- A Tennessee woman is suing NASA to keep what she says is moon dust. Laura Cicco says Neil Armstrong gave her the vial of moon dust when she was a kid. The conflict now is whether she could be forced to give the vial back to NASA.

Armstrong's moonwalk in 1969 made him famous world-wide, especially to then 10-year-old Laura in 1972.

"My mom handed me my dad's business card….And she said 'turn it over' and on the back was Neil Armstrong's autograph," Laura recalled to CBS News' Mark Strassmann.

Laura says her dad, Tom Murray, was friends with the first man on the moon through aviation circles. She said Armstrong passed a vial with gray stuff inside. Her parents told her it was dust from the moon.

Laura claims she forgot all about it, but found it five years ago after her parents died when she opened up her mother's hope chest in the attic.

"When I opened it I knew immediately what it was… And I said this is it and my husband Chris said 'This is what?' I said 'The moon dust!'" Laura told CBS News.

Cicco said she learned that NASA considers all lunar material government property and has a history of tracking down any that falls into the wrong hands.

She contacted lawyer Christopher McHugh to have her moon dust tested. The autograph was authentic, but lab testing on the dust found it was less conclusive. One test said there was "no evidence to rule out a lunar origin" while another test found it was similar to the "average crust of earth."

"We've speculated that this might be a sample that was vacuumed off a space suit," McHugh said.

McHugh said that was enough for him to file a pre-emptive lawsuit against NASA, declaring Laura the rightful owner.

"I didn't want her to be in a situation where she felt like she had to hide… Because if NASA finds out about it they will come kick your door in," McHugh said.

A spokesperson for NASA told CBS News in an email that the agency was unable to comment.

Space historian Robert Pearlman suspects Laura's dust is pixie dust - not real. He believes Armstrong knew better than to keep lunar material and never gave it away to anyone.

"To our knowledge he never gave moon dust to his sons, he never gave moon dust to his first or second wife. He never gave moon dust to his crewmates. I've worked with Buzz Aldrin. I know he doesn't have any," Pearlman told CBS News.

But for now, Laura swears her dust and her story are real.

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