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NASA The Courts Science

NASA Sues Apollo Astronaut To Return Moon Camera 395

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the thanks-for-exploring-space-for-us dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The US government has brought a lawsuit against astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man on the moon, after discovering that Mitchell had approached a NY auction house trying to sell a 16-millimeter data acquisition camera that was supposed to have been left in the lunar module. Mitchell argues that too many years have gone by for the government to pursue the camera as stolen and besides, it was given to the now 80-year-old moonwalker as a gift in line with NASA's then-policies governing spent equipment. However, the government contends it has no record of the camera being given to Mitchell who elected to remove it from the lunar module before parting ways with the spacecraft and returning to Earth, and the judge has ruled that the government is not bound by the statute of limitations denying Mitchell's motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The Apollo 14 astronauts were not the only crewmates to salvage parts of their lunar module as mementos: Astronauts aboard Apollo 12 and Apollo 15 ripped off parts of their moonwalking suits' life support backpacks before they were discarded onto the lunar surface. But what makes Mitchell's case different is that other astronauts asked their bosses before each mission for permission and provided a list of items they planned to keep while apparently Mitchell didn't. 'They give me a list of things they're going to bring back,' said Deke Slayton, head of NASA's astronaut corps, who died in 1993. 'I give it to the program office and they bring 'em back.' For his part, Mitchell does not seem ready to give up the camera as the case prepares to go to trial next year."
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NASA Sues Apollo Astronaut To Return Moon Camera

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  • by jesseck (942036) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @01:43PM (#37692884)

    On the other, that camera was paid for with US tax dollars and itemized as government property.

    Government property that was meant to remain abandoned on the Moon. What expectation did the Government have they would recover it?

  • by idontgno (624372) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @01:58PM (#37693086) Journal

    Well, let's consider the Federal Statute of limitations.

    This page [federalcriminallawyer.us] has a summary.

    The basic Fed statute of limitations is 5 years [cornell.edu].

    There are exceptions. Unless it's a capital offense or child sexual abuse, or "continuing and uninterrupted offenses" (fugitive from the law, possession of counterfeit money, etc.) the maximum appears to be 10 years.

    With one eye-catching exception:

    In cases of defrauding the United States, if the fraud was related to a contract, property, or other claim with the Department of Defense (eg, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Army) and the US is at war, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until after hostilities have ended. 18 USC 3287.

    So... all we need is for the government to assert that the camera was actually military property (by some tortured extension of the relationship between NASA and the DoD, or by the fact that Mitchell was a Navy Officer at the time of the offense), and that the United States has been at a continuous state of war since the time of the offense.

    Judging from how the government has been treating other civil rights, I could definitely imagine it arguing for that latter point. Haven't we been in a state of undeclared war since 1950 or something? I mean, we've always been at war with Eastasia. ALWAYS.

    Of course, IANAL, and this is all speculation. But there is a Federal Statute of Limitations, and it would take some kind of brass to just handwave it away.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @04:31PM (#37695168)

    >fully automated tin cans

    Apollo missions were NOT repeat NOT performed in automatic mode. Many many things (like navigation, trajectory, and trans-lunar/trans-earth/lunar landing course maneuvering) relied on manual optical equipment (celestial navigation), corect hand calculation on tiny calculators, and manual performance (punching the right buttons in the right sequence, manipulating control inputs like throttles and joysticks, correctly reacting to changing flight displays like altitude, rate of descent, artifical horizon, yaw status, computer readouts).

    You theoretically could have put an LM onto the moon in full auto mode, but nobody ever did (Lovell on Apollo 13 was going to try it but didn't have the chance). All Apollo landings were made with manual control over the automated flight attitude subroutines, as in "I'll point this thing, speed it up or slow it down, and decide where/how/when to land it" while auto mode kept it properly aligned in XYZ axes. Even with the automated flight and flight subroutines it was hard enough.

    So, even with what computerized flight and engine controls they had, those guys FLEW the Apollo missions. Like them or not, those folks weren't just pushing buttons and drinking Tang...

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