The bag has taken a circuitous route to its new owner. It was in NASA’s custody after it returned from its lunar mission, but was lent out to the Cosmosphere, a space museum in Kansas.
Max Ary, who ran the museum, resigned in 2002. After that, it was discovered that the moon bag and some other artifacts had gone missing. The bag was found in Mr. Ary’s garage in 2003, and two years later, he was convicted of fraud, theft and money laundering.
The bag should have been returned to NASA at that point; instead, Mr. Ary’s crime was compounded by confusion. Government officials mistook the Apollo 11 moon bag for one that had not been used to collect moon rocks.
And so, rather than return it to NASA’s custody, the government auctioned it off online. A lawyer in Illinois, Nancy Carlson, bought it for $955 in 2015.
Ms. Carlson then sent the bag to the Johnson Space Center in Houston to check its authenticity. There, NASA scientists realized that it was the same bag that Mr. Armstrong himself had used to collect lunar samples during one of the most iconic moments in American history.
So NASA tried to keep the bag. “This artifact, we believe, belongs to the American people and should be on display for the public,” the space agency said at the time.
But Ms. Carlson sued to get the artifact back, and in February, a federal court sided with her. She opted to auction the bag off at Sotheby’s. She could not be reached for comment on Friday, but Sotheby’s has said that she planned to donate some of the proceeds of the sale to charities, including the Immune Deficiency Foundation and a children’s health center.
Although the moon bag fetched a lower price than the $2-to-$4 million Sotheby’s had hoped for, Ms. Hatton said it was undoubtedly the star of Thursday’s auction.
“What makes it so special is that it was on the first lunar landing, used by the first man on the moon to bring back the first samples. So you always have this fascination with the ‘first’ things,” Ms. Hatton of Sotheby’s said. “Also the fact that it’s not normally something that would be in private hands.”