Nasa has stepped in to block the sale of cockroaches and the moon dust they were fed as part of an experiment following the 1969 Apollo 11 mission.
The material, due to be sold by Boston-based RR Auction, was expected to fetch more than $400,000 (£326,000).
The dispute centres on who owns the three cockroach carcasses and the 40mg of moon dust.
The dust was part of 47lb of lunar rock which was brought back to Earth.
It was fed to fish, small creatures and insects to see if it was life-threatening.
In this case, the dust was taken to the University of Minnesota and fed to the cockroaches by entomologist Marion Brooks.
Ms Brooks, who found the dust had no toxic effects, died in 2007.
'All Apollo samples belong to Nasa and no person'
The dust and rocks were kept on display at her home and then inherited by her daughter who sold the items.
However, when the purchaser decided to put the items on sale, Nasa stepped in.
“All Apollo samples, as stipulated in this collection of items, belong to Nasa and no person, university or other entity has ever been given permission to keep them after analysis, destruction or other use for any purpose, especially for sale or individual display,” it said in a letter.
“We are requesting that you no longer facilitate the sale of any and all items containing the Apollo 11 Lunar Soil Experiment (the cockroaches, slides, and post-destructive testing specimen) by immediately stopping the bidding process.”
As far as Nasa is concerned, the dust and cockroaches belong to the space agency. But its claim of ownership is disputed.
“Our contention is that they gave Dr Brooks the cockroaches which contained the lunar material,” a spokesman for the auction house told The Telegraph.
It was the US government which fed the cockroaches with the dust, he added.
Sale embargoed until 'government and seller work it out'
This is not the first time Nasa has laid claim to items brought back by the Apollo mission, although the agency admitted that it had been unaware of the previous occasion when the cockroaches and dust were sold.
“We specialise in selling Apollo items and occasionally we get letters from Nasa saying that this belongs to us,” the spokesman added.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we withdrew the lot.
“We’ll embargo the sale while the government and seller work it out.”