Moon Landing Presentational Desk Set
Offered is one of the most intriguing and controversial pieces of space memorabilia to have ever been offered at auction. At first glance, it may seem like an ordinary desk set, but within this plastic and epoxy desk set exists the possibility of the only pieces of U.S. Moon rock in private hands. The story is fascinating, and it begins with an extremely respected space engineer named Joe Healy.
Healy went to work for the Lunar Receiving Laboratory at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston in late 1967. There he acted as a senior engineer for NASA subcontractor Brown Root - Northrup, and worked in the laboratory during the historic Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 Moon flights. He was one of those few present when the first Apollo 11 “Rockbox” was unpacked, uncovering those pieces of the moon collected by Neil Armstrong. Joe Healy retired in 1970, and as a retirement gift, his co-workers created the offered desk set. Composed of plastic, it features a small piece of the mylar outer skin of the Apollo 11 spacecraft on the left front of the base and a small piece of the mylar outer skin of the Apollo 12 spacecraft on the right. On top of the base is an epoxy resin scale model of the first moon rock put on display from Apollo 11. Molded into the resin are presumably the tiny fragments and flecks found on the bottom of the Apollo 11 “rock boxes.” A brass plaque on the desk set reads, “Presented to JOE HEALY From his friends at LRL.”
Apparently, when word of the desk set reached NASA, they were not pleased. A memo was circulated telling space center employees that moon rocks and space vehicles were “National Treasures” and could not be privately owned. Although NASA was aware of Joe Healy’s desk set, they never asked him to return the gift. Over the next decade, Healy toted the desk set to schools in and around his home in Oregon, teaching children about the space program. During that stretch of time, numerous newspaper articles were written about Healy and his remarkable desk set.
Several years after Mr. Healy died, and the desk set became the possession of Healy’s daughter, Peggy Healy-Davis. In 1999, Davis offered the desk set for the possibility of sale. Once NASA was contacted to determine the desk set’s authenticity, their reaction was swift and unprecedented. Amid a media firestorm, a NASA special agent from the Goddard Space Flight Center seized the desk set, and non-destructive testing to determine the desk set’s authenticity ensued. After much legal posturing, NASA was forced to return the desk set to Ms. Davis, concluding that it was not possible to determine whether the dark gray particles encased in the epoxy model were of lunar origin because definitive testing on the particles would cause irreparable damage to the desk set.
The epoxy in which the fragments were placed, was originally clear. Over time, it has darkened to its present amber color. The mylar skin of the Apollo 11 & 12 spacecraft was originally gold, but as with the epoxy mold, those too have changed color with age and now appear silver. The desk set measures 10 x 3 inches, and the epoxy model is 2 ? inches.
NASA has kept and catalogued all its Moon rocks except for small “diplomatic samples” that it distributed in 1970 to select government officials. By contrast, Russian Moon rocks gathered during unmanned retrieval missions, have been privately owned and sold, the last pieces selling at Sothebys in 1993 for over $400,000.
No American Moon rock has ever been sold publicly.