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Apollo astronauts can keep, sell artifacts

Resolved NASA litigation included Apollo 13 checklist

Orlando SentinelOctober 7, 2012 

Shuttle Feud

In this April 15, 1970 picture, Apollo 13 commander James A. Lovell Jr., right, speaks during a news conference in Cape Kennedy, Fla. before the spacecraft launched on its ill-fated journey to the moon. At center is astronaut Fred Haise.

1970 AP FILE PHOTO

President Barack Obama ended a months-long fight over NASA relics last week when he signed into law a bill that confers full ownership of early NASA artifacts to the astronauts that took them as souvenirs.

The legislation follows a public – and sometimes bitter – battle between NASA and its astronaut corps over the sale of keepsakes from the agency’s earliest days, most notably the nearly $390,000 auction of a systems checklist from the infamous Apollo 13 mission.

NASA lawyers challenged the sale on the grounds that mission commander Jim Lovell didn’t have clear ownership of the 70-page checklist, which was crucial in helping the Apollo 13 crew survive an in-space explosion.

That challenge prompted widespread condemnation from NASA’s earliest astronauts, who argued that agency rules from that era allowed them to keep souvenirs, unlike NASA fliers in the modern era.

To settle the fight, lawmakers introduced a bill making clear that astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions could keep mementos such as checklists, flight manuals and training gear – with the exception that “lunar rocks and other lunar material” belonged to NASA.

The bill sailed through Congress, and Obama signed it on Oct. 2.

“I am pleased we were able to work in a bipartisan, bicameral way to clear up any ambiguity regarding small mementos kept by our nation’s early space pioneers,” said U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, chairman of the House science committee, in a statement.

The legislation also clears the way for NASA’s first astronauts to sell their artifacts – though the status of the Apollo 13 checklist remains uncertain.

Heritage Auctions of Dallas, which oversaw the checklist sale, subsequently voided the transaction and returned the checklist to Lovell, who could not be reached for comment.

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