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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 johnthorensen ( 539527 ) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @01:22PM (#37692544)

    Seems like a silly choice if you ask me. Especially when the guy is 80-years-old and a national hero. Moon rocks, I understand - they're in limited supply and of real research value. A camera? C'mon.

    As a sidenote, Space is about the only topic outside of friends and family that can still bring a tear to this grown man's eye. For me, it's the last romantic pursuit of mankind, and one which I treat with the utmost reverence. It's a shame that it's so wrapped up in politics.

  • by rcb1974 ( 654474 ) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @01:27PM (#37692624) Homepage
    This astronaut risks his life to go to the moon, and now the government isn't even letting him keep a little piece of garbage (essentially, that is what it is) that he brought back as a memento. How incredibly lame.
  • crime on the moon? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jjeffries ( 17675 ) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @01:27PM (#37692628)

    Since the camera was meant to be left there, this alleged crime would have occurred on the moon. Does this mean that the US federal government has jurisdiction on the moon?

  • by pyrr ( 1170465 ) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @01:53PM (#37693030)

    The statute of limitations doesn't apply. They're not prosecuting him for a crime.

    They're attempting to recover stolen property. Just because you stole something a really long time ago doesn't make it yours, free and clear. That's why the government can repossess moon rocks, no matter whose hands they passed through over the years. The odds of most stolen property after years and passing through many hands is remote, most people don't care enough to pursue their stuff that long...but if someone shows up one day, claiming to possess something he stole and using the people he stole it from as being the provenance that gives it all its value (the camera would be worth what, $100 tops as an obsolete scientific curiosity had it not gone to the moon?), I think the US Government is well within its rights to demand return of its property.

  • by pyrr ( 1170465 ) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @02:46PM (#37693700)

    It would set a very bad precedent if they allowed a US employee to violate the rules. I doubt the camera weighed all that much, but I'll go with the same argument that holds that it's unethical to take anything from a site, "What if everyone took a (rock, artifact, fossil, etc.)?", which my folks rightly used early and often. In this case, astronauts looting things isn't likely going to deprive science or other sightseers of knowledge or the experience, but NASA has very strict rules for very good reasons.

    Astronauts are apparently allowed a small box for mementos to take into space and return with (I learned this on Pawn Stars when someone brought in a moon mission patch, photo, and autograph display). Nothing more without authorization. What if all the other members of the moon landing crew also decided to smuggle crap, and the module wound up being overweight? That could've endangered the lives of the crew. Why should Edgar's alleged bad behavior allow him to benefit in such a way that all the other moon astronauts didn't, because they behaved themselves?

  • by ottothecow ( 600101 ) on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @03:31PM (#37694430) Homepage
    It says they have asked for it back several presumably they knew about it for a while.

    In fact, I bet they knew about it at landing as they probably inventoried everything that came back.

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