A bill to allow NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts to retain spaceflight artifacts that have been in their possession since leaving the astronaut corps was introduced March 7 in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The legislation, co-sponsored by Reps. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), would stop NASA from going after astronauts who seek to sell personal logs, checklists, test articles and other castoff keepsakes from their spaceflights by conferring to them full ownership of such mementos.
In January, NASA temporarily halted the sale of an Apollo 13 checklist astronaut Jim Lovell sold at auction for $325,000. Prior to that, the NASA Office of Inspector General sued Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell to reclaim a lunar camera he was set to sell for $80,000. Mitchell settled the case out of court and returned the camera so it could be donated to the National Air and Space Museum.
“Until 1999 NASA had no formal policy on astronauts retaining these artifacts, but it was a well accepted practice throughout the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo program … for NASA leadership to allow astronauts to keep as mementos various mission artifacts,” Hall and Johnson wrote in a “Dear Colleagues” letter seeking additional sponsors for their bill, H.R. 4158.
“In the absence of a formal written policy or statute … NASA is attempting to retrieve many of these very same items,” the letter says. “Without statutory clarification, some astronauts may be forced to make reparations if NASA continues to pursue its current strategy.”