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NASA The Courts Science

NASA Sues Apollo Astronaut To Return Moon Camera 395

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 Rockoon ( 1252108 ) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @01:13PM (#37692404)
    Did I just read that the government is not bound by the statute of limitations?

    ..and here I thought the statute of limitations was specifically there to bind the government.
  • by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @01:14PM (#37692440)

    "...government is not bound by..."

    This pretty much explains how we got to where we are today.

  • C'mon NASA... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JustAnotherIdiot ( 1980292 ) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @01:24PM (#37692578)'s stories like these that make people look at you and say "Boy, I sure am glad the government cut their funding!"
  • Abandoned property (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Quila ( 201335 ) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @01:30PM (#37692680)

    You'd think anything purposely designated to be left on the Moon is about as abandoned as property can get.

  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @01:37PM (#37692784) Homepage
    Honestly, I'm not that surprised that of all the astronauts who walked on the moon that this would be an issue with Edgar Mitchell. He's always been a bit of an odd ball/loose cannon. He's a strong believer in psychics and thinks that UFOs are actually visiting aliens. He also claims to have been involved in remote healing and ESP. He founded the very New Agey Institute for Noetic Sciences [] (some may remember them for getting some degree of reference in Dan Brown's last book.) A lot of NASA has had very little patience with him. It isn't surprising that he'd both have neglected to do something like tell the rest of NASA what he was taking back and that he would have annoyed them enough that they would not end up finding an amicable resolution of the issue.
  • by canajin56 ( 660655 ) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @01:43PM (#37692888)
    Yes, you read that. It was written by the submitter, not by the judge or by the lawyers. The judge said that the Federal government is not bound by State statues. And so even if in that particular state there's a law that says stolen property becomes the property of the possessor after X amount of time, these laws do not apply to Federal property. But that's not as nice of an anti-government soundbite, so obviously some words had to be excised.
  • by perpenso ( 1613749 ) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @01:44PM (#37692902)
    I am just guessing but I expect its not about possessing the "discarded" gear, rather its about trying to profit from it. If it had been passed on to his kids/grandkids or put in a museum for display I doubt the government would have cared.
  • by JockTroll ( 996521 ) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @01:49PM (#37692966)

    why is it cluttering up these august pages?

    Because it's OCTOBER, you loserboy nerd.

  • Re:Oh boy... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @01:59PM (#37693100)

    Nevermind that, if violating an order, by taking the camera back with them had been sufficient to affect the launch from the Moon and created an Apollo 13 like crisis (or even killed the astronauts) would it be OK?

    Apollo astronauts weren't retards. There was a significant margin in return mass and no chance that a 16mm camera would take them over that margin unless they were already in 'an Apollo 13 like crisis'.

    Heck, it's not like they weighed every moon rock before the return trip to make sure they didn't have too many.

  • by perpenso ( 1613749 ) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @02:02PM (#37693140)
    It may not be abandoned in a legal sense. For example it is my understanding that a naval vessel remains property of the navy until stricken from the navy's registry. Also it may not be abandoned in the scientific sense either. A future mission may visit the site to study the effect of long term exposure on various materials. IIRC things like this have already been done, Apollo 12 landed near a robotic Surveyor probe and recovered some parts for such a purpose. The lander may be expended not abandoned?
  • by Yakasha ( 42321 ) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @02:26PM (#37693480) Homepage

    I think the US Government is well within its rights to demand return of its property.

    They're suing to get back their trash. The camera was a part of the lunar module which was ditched half-way off the moon, fell back to the moon, and turned into a pile of squished metal.

    Seriously its like suing an 80 year old homeless guy for stealing a half-eaten hamburger out of your trash-can.

  • by theshowmecanuck ( 703852 ) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @02:28PM (#37693500) Journal
    George W. Bush [], Barrack Obama [], and the U.S. Senate [] have all made it plainly clear that the government no longer wants to or thinks they have to abide by the constitution. Some folks are trying to disagree but.... Anyway, like any government bureaucracy, after it has been around a while it tends to create its own group mind, and usually that group mind tends to forget or disregard annoying things like constitutional rights or just plainly doing the right thing. After all, these annoyances just get in the way of doing things, which is already hard enough to do in a bureaucratic institution. And the problems just get exacerbated by the rectilinearlly rigid thinking robot-like people that seem to excel in a bureaucracy; and no-doubt is the type of person who is causing this bullshit maneuver that NASA is making right now. (And corporations are just narcissistic/egocentric bureaucracies... extrapolate from there.)
  • by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @02:30PM (#37693518)

    Hey, you don't get on the front page of slashdot without lots of bias. This crowd leans right/libertarian so you need to pander to them to keep the ads flowing.

    Before we start deifying Mitchell as some kind of anti-government hero and genius, I'd like to point out that he's deeply into ESP, the paranormal, remote viewing/healing, and other woo. He started something called the Institute for Noetic Sciences in the 1970s. He's essentially the opposite of James Randi. I love to see these charlatans exposed in other parts of their lives too. Turns out he's not only a Uri Geller-level bullshitter but also a common thief.

  • by NiteShaed ( 315799 ) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @02:53PM (#37693850)

    There's probably something to be said though about the fairness of letting him profit while the astronauts who didn't bring things back to sell don't. Assuming he wasn't authorized to take it (he claims otherwise, but for the moment assume NASA is right), then it's kind of a slap in the face to all the others who played by the rules and didn't just grab whatever they could carry and bring it back as well. I'd kinda like to see what other astronauts have to say about this actually....

  • by iluvcapra ( 782887 ) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @02:54PM (#37693860)

    This hero was doing just fine until he wanted to make some money at Sothebys.

    Possessing a piece of American history, even if you might not technically be entitled, is one thing. But selling a piece of American history, for profit, to the highest bidder, is something very different.

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"