The bag, which is made from specialised material much like that used in spacesuits, was used to collect half a kilogram of moon dust and 12 rock fragments from The Sea of Tranquillity during the Apollo 11 mission. After Neil Armstrong and his fellow astronauts returned to Earth in July 1969, the rocks were extracted and the bag was lost.

It was left unidentified in a box in the Johnson Space Centre for many years, and eventually appeared in a garage in Kansas. Max Ary, manager of the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, was convicted of its theft.

The bag was seized and bought at auction in 2015 by Nancy Lee Carlson, an attorney. She paid $995 for the bag, hoping it may still contain moon dust, and sent it to Nasa for authentication. After tests revealed that the bag belonged to Neil Armstrong and the dark dust inside was from the moon, Nasa declined to return the bag.

Carlson entered into a year-long court battle, and successfully sued Nasa: the space agency was forced to return the bag. Carlson reported receiving hundreds of emails a day from people wanting to see or buy the bag, so for its safety, she stored the bag with a security firm in a remote location unknown even to her.

Finding it unpractical to keep the bag herself, she decided to auction it once again.

The bag will be auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York City, along with other historic space memorabilia, in an auction dedicated to space exploration for the 48th anniversary of the first moon landing.

“Just know that the kind of person that would pay money like this for this item is going to take excellent care of it,” said Cassandra Hatton, a vice-president at Sotheby’s. “Nothing is lost forever.”

Other lots on sale will include the Apollo 13 flight plan, annotated by its crew, a Nasa spacesuit worn by Gus Grissom, the second American to fly in space, and Nasa lunar photographs.

“[Space] is one of few subjects that I think are not culturally specific,” said Ms Hatton. “It doesn’t matter your religion, where you’re from, what language you speak. We all have the common experience of staring up at the sky and wondering what’s going on amongst the stars.”