NASA questions Apollo 13 commander's sale of list

Jan 06, 2012 By CURT ANDERSON , AP Legal Affairs Writer
A Nov. 23, 2011 file photo released by Heritage Auctions shows a a key page from the Apollo 13 Lunar Module Checklist with handwriting by Commander James Lovell. The list shows calculations made by Commander James Lovell that helped him and his crew navigate the damaged aircraft back to earth. NASA is questioning whether Lovell has the right to sell a 70-page checklist from the flight that included his handwritten calculations. The document was sold at auction in November for $388.000. The sale has been suspended pending the outcome of the inquiry. (AP Photo/Heritage Auctions,File)

NASA is questioning whether Apollo 13 commander James Lovell has the right to sell a 70-page checklist from the flight that includes his handwritten calculations that were crucial in guiding the damaged spacecraft back to Earth.

The document was sold by Heritage Auctions in November for more than $388,000, some 15 times its initial list price. The checklist gained great fame as part of a key dramatic scene in the 1995 film "Apollo 13" in which actor Tom Hanks plays Lovell making the calculations.

After the sale, NASA contacted Heritage to ask whether Lovell had title to the checklist. Greg Rohan, president of Dallas-based Heritage, said Thursday the sale has been suspended pending the outcome of the inquiry. The checklist, he said, is being stored for now in the company's vault.

Rohan said Lovell provided a signed affidavit that he had clear title to the ring-bound checklist, which is standard procedure. Heritage does robust business in space memorabilia and this is the first time NASA has ever raised questions about ownership of its items, he added.

"It's one that is near and dear to our hearts," Rohan said of the space collectibles business. "We, like a lot of people, consider these astronauts to be national heroes."

The latest inquiry follows a federal lawsuit NASA filed last year in Miami against Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell seeking return of a camera he brought back from his 1971 moon mission. That lawsuit was settled in October when Mitchell agreed to give the camera to NASA, which in turn is donating it to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs said the lawsuit and Lovell inquiry do not represent a broad new agency effort to recover space items.

"It's a challenge to continually monitor the growing auctions community, which is usually how these items come to light," he said in an email. "This latest issue demonstrates a need to reach out to former astronauts and other former agency personnel who may have these kind of items."

The Apollo 13 moon mission was aborted about 200,000 miles from Earth when an oxygen tank exploded on April 13, 1970, causing another tank to fail and seriously jeopardizing the three-man crew's ability to return home. Astronaut Jack Swigert famously said "Houston, we've had a problem here" after the explosion.

The crew was forced to move from the command ship into the attached lunar landing module for the return flight. Lovell's calculations on the checklist were key in transferring navigation data from the command craft to the lunar module.

NASA has raised questions about title rights for three other space items Heritage had sold in the same November auction. Two were from Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweikart: a lunar module identification plate that brought more than $13,000 and a hand controller that received a $22,705 bid. The space agency also targeted a fourth item, a hand glove worn by Alan Shepard during training for Apollo 14, that brought more than $19,000.

In an email to Heritage, NASA Deputy Chief Counsel Donna M. Shafer said there was no indication the agency had ever transferred ownership of any of the items to the astronauts.

"Only NASA has the authority to clear NASA property for sale," Shafer said in the email, which was provided by NASA to The Associated Press.

She said the matter has been turned over to NASA's Office of Inspector General, adding that "there is potential risk of the items being seized by the government until title issues have been resolved."

Lovell, 83, who lives near Chicago and owns a restaurant bearing his name in Lake Forest, Ill., declined comment through a spokeswoman.

In the Mitchell lawsuit, his attorney argued prior to the settlement that NASA officials told astronauts long ago they could keep certain equipment from the missions, and many such items wind up on auction house lists. A 1972 NASA memo seems to back up that claim, requiring only that the astronauts provide the agency with lists of items in their possession.

Apollo 15 astronauts were reprimanded after they took unauthorized, special envelopes to the moon with stamps that were given a special postal marking shortly after their return in 1971. They had a deal with a German stamp dealer who later sold them for $1,500 each.

Last month, the NASA inspector general reported that since 1970, more than 500 pieces of moon rocks, meteorites, comet chunks and other space material have been stolen or gone missing. The report said NASA needs to keep better track of some 26,000 samples sent to researchers and museums or the agency runs greater risk they will be lost.

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User comments : 15

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Gadieid
2.5 / 5 (2) Jan 06, 2012
I think that with Mitchel he decided to give it back and they manage to settle. Interesting how this case will end.
SleepTech
4.4 / 5 (7) Jan 06, 2012
Oh please! We all know that if NASA had kept this artifact they would have lost it with all of their moon rocks. Did NASA even notice the binder was missing until it sold for $300k? Doubtful. NASA should be thanking Lovell for keeping track of what they surely would have lost or discarded.
chardo137
2.8 / 5 (9) Jan 06, 2012
Once again evidence that NASA hasn't had anyone worthwhile working for them since the Apollo program. Does anyone remember what Nobel recipient Sheldon Glashow said at the launch of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the ISS? He said "Finally some real science on the ISS. Up till now it has been high-school experiments and a bunch of silliness." All of the administration at NASA need to be fired and replaced with people who understand and care about science and the people who actually did the few worthwhile things that they ever did.
Sanescience
3 / 5 (4) Jan 06, 2012
Par for government agencies/bureaucracies. If you really want stories of callous treatment of people risking and loosing their lives for their country, talk to some war veterans.
Xbw
2.7 / 5 (12) Jan 06, 2012
Let the man sell his property off. NASA has no right to it anymore. It would have been forgotten by them anyhow. I don't see any notes on aliens or secret technology. What do they have to lose?
Aside from 388,000 dollars. :)
rubberman
4.2 / 5 (10) Jan 06, 2012
If they block the sale under the guise that it is their property he should bill them for storing it 40 years...
390 grand should cover it.
Xbw
1 / 5 (5) Jan 06, 2012
If they block the sale under the guise that it is their property he should bill them for storing it 40 years...
390 grand should cover it.

HAHAHAHAHHAHAHA
Vendicar_Decarian
0.1 / 5 (38) Jan 06, 2012
Wasn't this flight book stolen from NASA?

If so, he has no right to sell it.

RonPaul1
1 / 5 (5) Jan 07, 2012
I prefer Charmin Ultra. :-O Toilet paper can't be that expensive!
MarkyMark
5 / 5 (1) Jan 07, 2012
Wasn't this flight book stolen from NASA?


No it was not? You can find some info on this easy to miss info in.....the article above!
Shootist
1 / 5 (3) Jan 07, 2012

Democrats and bureaucrats.
A pox on all our asseTs.
hagger
1 / 5 (2) Jan 07, 2012
sour grapes..how can they own some thing he wrote in deep space out side all geographical boundries..or do NASA own all that too...
Vendicar_Decarian
0.3 / 5 (36) Jan 07, 2012
"No it was not?" - MarkyMark

Then he has every right to sell it.

Case closed.
Vendicar_Decarian
0.1 / 5 (35) Jan 07, 2012
It has been the law since America signed the intergalactic space convention on Feb 29, 1961. A copy of the convention with the signature of Uncle Sam is available at the Galactic Registrar Office, 1298024 PfnaeqPF street XZBlakab prefecture Gloforb Planet.

I know IyaKzpifnakopliz who runs the office. Hshe is a nice thing.

"how can they own some thing he wrote in deep space out side all geographical boundries." - Hagger
SleepTech
not rated yet Jan 08, 2012
"how can they own some thing he wrote in deep space out side all geographical boundries." - Hagger


I agree with the sentiment and think it's a good point, though NASA could argue he had to use their shuttle to get to space in the first place.