Congress, NASA, White House

Astronaut artifact bill becomes law

For all the partisan divides in Washington, some legislation can still easily become law. Last week the House approved by voice vote HR 4158, legislation that would give pre-Shuttle era astronauts ownerships of various artifacts they may have collected from their missions (with the exception to lunar samples). That bill then passed the Senate by unanimous consent late Friday, before Congress recessed until after the elections. On Tuesday, President Obama signed the bill into law.

“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,” Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), chairman of the House Science Committee and sponsor of the bill, said in a statement Thursday. “As I said on the House Floor, these men are heroes who took extraordinary risks to establish American preeminence in space, and by doing so helped our country become a world leader.”

While the bill had “bipartisan, bicameral” support, the legislation is a minor rebuke to NASA. It was recent NASA actions to block the planned sale or auction of such artifacts, including a camera by Apollo 14′s Edgar Mitchell and a checklist by Apollo 13′s Jim Lovell, on the basis that those items were still government property, that prompted the legislation.

39 comments to Astronaut artifact bill becomes law

  • amightywind

    The government bureaucracy looks with jealousy on anyone trying to make a dollar even as they chisel inflated, non-market salaries and pensions from the taxpayer. I am glad the house recognized this. The GOP is ever the friend of the entrepreneur.

  • Heinrich Monroe

    these men are heroes who took extraordinary risks to establish American preeminence in space, and by doing so helped our country become a world leader

    … and as such, we honor them in our pawnshops.

    The law is justified, in that if these astronauts were truly given these artifacts by NASA, their subsequent disposition can’t be regulated by the agency.

    But these men, who are selling off artifacts of what was a national endeavor to private collectors, for personal profit, are somewhat less heroes to me. The national endeavor here wasn’t to make entrepreneurs.

  • Coastal Ron

    amightywind wrote @ September 28th, 2012 at 8:41 am

    The GOP is ever the friend of the entrepreneur.

    Yes, I’m sure the GOP would encourage our soldiers to sell their weapons to the the highest bidder too, huh? What’s a little larceny with government property? What a weird statement.

  • Heinrich Monroe

    What’s a little larceny with government property? What a weird statement.

    But we’re not talking about government property. These astronauts were not expressly required to return these items to NASA. See the bill language below. So either that means that NASA either wholly relinquished them to the astronauts, or that NASA was asking these retired astronauts to store NASA property. Can’t imagine it was the latter. Can’t have it both ways.

    What I find very much less than noble (though formally legal) is selling these items for profit. I’m sure museums would have been delighted to get this stuff. So when Jim Lovell dies, we can all wink at a pawn shop, right?

    “For purposes of this Act, the term ‘‘artifact’’ means, with respect to an astronaut described in section 2(a), any expendable item utilized in missions for the Mercury, Gemini, or Apollo programs through the completion of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project not expressly required to be returned to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration at the completion of the mission and other expendable, disposable, or personal-use items utilized by such astronaut during participation in any such program.”

  • Heinrich Monroe wrote @ September 28th, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    What I find very much less than noble (though formally legal) is selling these items for profit. I’m sure museums would have been delighted to get this stuff.

    You are not alone in your viewpoint that sales are somehow less noble, but I would suggest it is an opinion meriting additional thought. Consider:

    • astronauts who donate the proceeds to student scholarships or cancer research
    • astronauts who invest the money with companies to advance space exploration
    • astronauts whose sales support museums
    • an astronaut who used the proceeds to cover the remaining medical bills for his son, who tragically passed away
    All of these actually happen(ed).

    Donating artifacts to museums is commendable but it’s a false dichotomy to suggest sales are any less noble. Even if the sale is just to provide for his and his family’s retirement, it doesn’t mean the astronaut doesn’t care about the preservation of the items he is releasing to collectors.

    Collectors have been responsible for advancing historical research, both about the items they own and the missions the artifacts represent. They’ve expanded access and exposure to space history artifacts to communities that would otherwise be ignored. And while it’s possible to also cite less than desirable outcomes with collector-owned artifacts, the same too is true for museums.

    The bill was authored and passed into law to protect not just astronaut memorabilia sales, but also the many items they have donated to museums and other organizations. Both, in my opinion, merited the effort.

  • Heinrich Monroe

    Donating artifacts to museums is commendable but it’s a false dichotomy to suggest sales are any less noble.

    But I think sales to benefit the person (whether to take a trip to Bermuda or to pay medical expenses for a relative) IS less noble. That is indeed just my opinion. I can’t ask to review his finances to see how much he needs the money. Maybe he’s paying those medical expenses with the memorabilia so he CAN take a trip to Bermuda. I can’t and don’t want to have to make such evaluations.

    The astronaut personally profiting from this memorabilia has to understand that it looks a bit fishy. He may have to sacrifice some nobility to pay those medical expenses. The importance of those medical expenses may, to him, trump his legacy. That’s a hard but defensible decision.

    Yes, paying private collectors CAN be responsible for advancing historical research, and CAN provide expanded access and exposure for that memorabilia. but I hardly think it is assured that will happen. If the astronaut donates it to a museum (which is not the situation I’m referring to here), you can be pretty sure that will happen.

    Some sense of nobility could, I suppose, be retained, if the astronaut publicly announces receipt of formal assurance that these items will be well cared for and shared. That’s a promise that the purchaser can then be held to. At least the intent is admirable. Has that happened?

    Again, I believe that such sales should be perfectly legal. I just think that those sales don’t contribute to heroic legacies.

    By the way, real entrepreneurship is about profiting from value created. It isn’t about selling off gifts, which is what these were. These were gifts from NASA to the astronaut.

  • Googaw

    But we’re not talking about government property. These astronauts were not expressly required to return these items to NASA. See the bill language below.

    It is no longer government property. But before Teusday it was federal property, and thus, as Coastal Ron says, keeping and selling that property was larceny. Do you think as employees we are entitled to keep the employer-supplied laptop after we leave? Even the paperclips we are technically obliged to give back. There need be no statement by the employer or in the contract that these items must be returned — that is the default law.

    The people who actually designed and made these artifacts the astronauts filched — were they entitled to keep them too? The engineers who designed the rockets and spacecraft that got these astronauts where they were going? They had to give this stuff back when they left. The blue collar men who built them? They had to give this stuff back. And they still have to give this stuff back, even after President Obama signed this bill into law.

    That’s why they had to pass a special law to say that astronauts, alone among all the employees who worked on these projects, actually own this taxpayer funded and (until today) government owned stuff after all. If that had already been the law they wouldn’t have needed this statute.

    Of course we all know that astronauts have been astrally touched by the cosmic rays they have travelled through. In their blessed state a little larceny at taxpayer expense can hardly have been wrong for them, even if it was and still is wrong and illegal for the rest of us. Even if it was and still is wrong and illegal for the people who designed and built these heavenly shrines. Our beloved celestial pilgrims require their own special set of rules. Thus the new law.

  • Heinrich Monroe wrote @ September 28th, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Yes, paying private collectors CAN be responsible for advancing historical research, and CAN provide expanded access and exposure for that memorabilia. but I hardly think it is assured that will happen. If the astronaut donates it to a museum (which is not the situation I’m referring to here), you can be pretty sure that will happen.

    I realize it is contrary to what most assume, but donating an artifact to a museum does not assure its preservation. To be clear, my interest is not to cast aspersions on museums, but there are enough examples of artifacts being lost, damaged and even purposely destroyed to suggest that museums are not without their own faults.

    Further, I think it is fair to say that someone who has bid as high as $400,000 (as in the case of Jim Lovell’s LM activation checklist, which was one of the artifacts that led to this legislation) has a vested interest in seeing the item preserved, if for no other reason than to protect its resale value. Though with that said, in many cases it is first and foremost a deep respect for the history that the artifact represents, rather than the potential return on investment, that leads to the purchase.

    Through collectSPACE, I’ve had the chance to meet and get to know many of the collectors who pursue these items, and I think were you to have the same experience, it might change your view as to what is or is not noble.

    So with respect, I disagree that these sales detract from the astronauts’ legacies. Rather, together with their museum and charitable donations, I believe these sales help share and preserve the astronauts’ histories by reaching out to enthusiasts and the public through various venues and means.

  • Googaw wrote @ September 28th, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    If that had already been the law they wouldn’t have needed this statute.

    NASA’s General Counsel and/or Office of Inspector General claimed the artifacts were federal property, unless paperwork could be produced documenting their release. But that claim was never upheld by a court of law. Ed Mitchell settled his case before it began and the questions raised about Jim Lovell’s and Rusty Schweickart’s artifacts were just that, questions.

    The new law confirms, rather than grants, full rights of ownership to the astronauts. It was authored on the clear premise that the astronauts already owned the items; the bill sought to rectify the lack of documentation, which had led to NASA GC/OIG challenges.

    It also partially explains why the bill narrowly defines artifact and eligible astronauts. Were it as you write, that astronauts have special status, then the law could have simply stated that “Astronauts own their artifacts.” But only astronauts who flew on missions between 1961 and 1975 are covered by the law, and only the artifacts they “received… during [their] participation in any such program” are eligible.

  • Heinrich Monroe

    Through collectSPACE, I’ve had the chance to meet and get to know many of the collectors who pursue these items, and I think were you to have the same experience, it might change your view as to what is or is not noble.

    I, on the other hand, have an account executive friend who is very proud of the page of a Gemini scratch pad he bought. He has it up on his office wall in a fancy frame, bordered by stars and moons. There is no sharing involved here (except for his business colleagues), nor reaching out. I can’t even be sure the framing was done in a way that would assure preservation. I think it’s very naive to assume that all or even most collectors buy their collections in order to share with the public. That’s not the case in the art world. Well, they’re certainly there to share … with friends and people you want to cultivate.

    There need be no statement by the employer or in the contract that these items must be returned — that is the default law.

    “Default law”? Is there nothing on the books? Would be interesting to see how well a default law holds up in court. One would think that there is some established legal background to this, where some fired or retired worker kept company materiel because they were not explicitly told to return it. Legal opinion, anyone?

    I’m sure the astronauts would justify these sales by saying that not only did NASA not ask for these items back, but probably said “Sure, just keep ‘em. We don’t need them.” But I doubt very much that NASA, if asked, would have said “Sure, we don’t need ‘em. Just take those items and go out and make some huge personal profit on them.”

    But it can’t work both ways. If NASA gives items to someone, and turns over property rights, they can’t specify how those items need to be treated or disposed. If on the other hand, NASA is just letting retired astronauts store NASA-owned memorabilia, then I would think that those astronauts deserve some compensation for services rendered.

    In fact, most of what we’re talking about is junk, and a lot of it even of dubious historical value. It is indeed more about the absurd deification of astronauts and iconifying things that they touched than it is about telling a story.

    Of course, it wont be long before we see for sale the underwear of the SEAL who killed Bin Laden, right? Probably not Navy property. They’d have every right to do it, but that act would certainly tarnish their legacy.

  • Heinrich Monroe

    The new law confirms, rather than grants, full rights of ownership to the astronauts. It was authored on the clear premise that the astronauts already owned the items; the bill sought to rectify the lack of documentation, which had led to NASA GC/OIG challenges.

    Thank you. This sheds a lot of light on the matter.

  • E.P, Grondine

    Hi Heinrich –

    These personal artifacts will not go to “pawnhops”, but rather will likely be donated to museums as tax dedcutible donations. You’re also making completely spurious assumptions about what the astronauts will do with the funds they raise by these sales.

    Speaking of assumptions, why do you think that only one item determines space leadership? The simple fact is that the world is more complex than that.

    Given the number of months it took for this legislation to go through, I can hardly wait to see how our leadership deals with January 1. It would be nice if the US federal government were functioning in time to track
    2012 DA14 as it approaches.

  • DCSCA

    “In fact, most of what we’re talking about is junk, and a lot of it even of dubious historical value.”

    =yawn= In FACT: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. A New England firm is auctioning off ‘junk’ beling to infamous criminals this weekend and expects brisk busienss in the six figure area. Sober up.

  • DCSCA

    Purchased a small piece of copper from the Statue of Liberty in 1986 for $40- procedes went to the restoration, which the copper came from in the re-work. Old piece of copper te size of oyu fingernail- worthless, right? Or priceless, depending on your values. Sits next to a fragment of the Kremlin Wall picked up on a visit in the ’70s in the den. Besided the signed Armstrong photo from 1969.. Worthless, or priceless… depends on your POV and what you value, and treasure.

  • Heinrich Monroe

    These personal artifacts will not go to “pawnhops”, but rather will likely be donated to museums as tax dedcutible donations.

    Did you read what I wrote above about a certain Gemini scratch pad? What you say is demonstrably false in at least one instance. I’m aware of others pieces like that one. It would actually be pretty interesting to assess how much space memorabilia that finds its way into the public marketplace ends up in museums. Betcha it’s a small amount.

    one man’s trash is another man’s treasure

    Precisely right. What I’m talking about, of course, is the value to NASA. We’re not dim enough to think that people will spend a lot of money on what, to them, is a piece of junk. Well, maybe such people need to sober up. As to historical value, I think NASA can make the best assessment. As I said, I think a lot of the value of this material is as relics of revered figures. It is worth a lot to some people to touch an artifact that an astronaut from the glory days of space pilgrimages has touched, or even just breathed upon.

  • Googaw

    “Default law”? Is there nothing on the books?

    This isn’t rocket science, folks. If the employer paid for it, and didn’t expressly grant it to the employee, it’s the employer’s property. It is theft for employees to take their employers’ property. If you don’t believe me, try taking home your office furniture, and when questioned by your boss claim that you own it, and let us know how your experiment works out. :-)

    By “default” I simply mean that by default — in the absence of any special agreement or special law such as Congress just passed — NASA owns their property, just as any other employer owns their property. Since there was no such agreement and until Tuesday no such Congressional statute, and since this stuff was clearly paid for by the federal government, it was until Tuesday quite clearly federal property. It’s not an issue open to serious dispute.

    NASA’s General Counsel and/or Office of Inspector General claimed the artifacts were federal property, unless paperwork could be produced documenting their release. But that claim was never upheld by a court of law. Ed Mitchell settled his case ….

    And that claim was certainly correct. If NASA paid for it, and didn’t expressly grant it to somebody else, then there no legal issue at doubt here. NASA owned it. That NASA chose to settle the case hardly contradicts the clarity of the law here. The vast majority of cases where the law is clear are settled rather than brought to trial, because there is no point holding a trial when the outcome is obvious. It takes two to settle, and if Ed Mitchell had wanted to prove that he was legally and morally in the right he wouldn’t have settled, he would have insisted the issue be brough to trial or dismissed. Having, quite obviously, no good case, he chose to settle.

    Congress has however now carved out this special exception for the older generation of astronauts. That the statutory language purports to “confirm” rather than grant the ownership is just a common euphemism used in such statutes. It doesn’t change the fact that until Tuesday under the law these takings of federal property were thefts. The practical consequence of the new law is that these thefts have been forgiven by Congress.

  • Heinrich Monroe

    If NASA paid for it, and didn’t expressly grant it to somebody else, then there no legal issue at doubt here.

    Yep. But I’ll bet NASA did expressly grant it to the astronauts. “Sure, take it, we don’t need that junk.” Shrug. The problem, I have to suppose, is that the granting was not in writing.

    What Congress is legislating is that this stuff is, in fact, to NASA, pretty much junk. If NASA didn’t see fit to appropriate it when the flights were done, then NASA didn’t see value in it. It would have been so easy for NASA to give a clear instruction — “GIVE US EVERYTHING”. Three words. But it would seem that they didn’t. Had NASA done that, the case would have been clear. The astronauts would simply have nothing to call their own.

    If I leave a job, and go away with a pencil that my employer never asked for, and I end up using that pencil to write a best-seller, you’re saying that my former employer can knock on my door and say, “Hey! That manuscript is our property, because it the pigment it was written with belongs to US!” And “No way can you sell what’s left of that pencil to an adoring fan. It’s OURS!”

    Yeah, sure.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Googaw wrote @ September 28th, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    “It is no longer government property. But before Teusday it was federal property, and thus, as Coastal Ron says, keeping and selling that property was larceny. Do you think as employees we are entitled to keep the employer-supplied laptop after we leave? Even the paperclips we are technically obliged to give back. There need be no statement by the employer or in the contract that these items must be returned — that is the default law.”:

    I am not the lawyer in the family; that was my Dad and he is in heaven now so there is no real way that I can ask his viewpoint of what you wrote: however to me the entire thing seems silly…and I dont think that your comparison holds water (and I say this as someone who has drawn paychecks from Uncle and who at one point carried a federal badge)

    There is a difference between property that has value based on its capabilities and property which has value for the novelty of the property. IE a laptop from a federal (or any other) employer has value, true and measurable value, which at some point degrades to nothing as the laptop obsolesces. The stuff on the laptop (ie the software) falls into a different category.

    A former checklist (I have my last F-14 checklist) from a vehicle that no longer exist as an operating vehicle; has no value today in itself just as Lovell’s checklist does not other then speculative value.

    Theft to be a crime must be valued at some number (in the federal system it is 100.00 or was I am not aware of what it is now). So “pilfer pencils” and its unlikely that the FBI or any other sane law enforcement agency will make a “federal case” out of it. On the other hand take and sale or simply take a laptop and if the value of the instrument alone (ignoring the data on it) is more then 100 dollars…they probably will.

    My Dad and I have talked about some of the astronaut cases where NASA has gone “rogue” (in his view and mine) in reference to a case that he had with American airlines. He took American to court on behalf of a couple of flight attendants who got chopped off Dallas Cowboy charters after reaching a certain age. You can read the decision in his favor by the SCOTUS…what this relates to is that American at one point blew a fuse with one of the flight attendants and tried to prosecute her for theft because she was in the habit of taking some of the wine bottles after a flight. Sadly for AA the amount of money involved did not go above petty larceny/theft which is a misdemeanor in the State of Texas and not only beat American (and the Tarrant county DA’s office into a small hole but also that played into the larger jury issue which took American to the cleaners.

    My larger point is that the entire thing seems well petty.

    And since NASA is doing such a grand job in almost all its endeavors (grin) one can sense a trivialness in this which is well almost at AA levels.

    I hope to live long enough to see some of the “stuff” that farmers all over east Texas are holding onto from Columbia come on the market!

    Robert G. Oler

  • Googaw

    But I’ll bet NASA did expressly grant it to the astronauts. “Sure, take it, we don’t need that junk.”

    That’s possible. But apparently Edgar Mitchell couldn’t find witnesses to say that this is what happened, so he threw in the towel.

    If I leave a job, and go away with a pencil that my employer never asked for, and I end up using that pencil to write a best-seller, you’re saying that my former employer can knock on my door and say, “Hey! That manuscript is our property, because it the pigment it was written with belongs to US!”

    A poor analogy. In your hypothetical the book is your own work, not a work for hire, and the pencil is incidental. By contrast, here the astronauts were directly fencing government property that was itself of non-trivial market value.

    And “No way can you sell what’s left of that pencil to an adoring fan. It’s OURS!”

    Technically they could recover monetary damages for the value of the pencil as a pencil, but in this hypothetical they can’t get an injunction to recover the pencil itself, and they can’t recover as damages the difference between its value as a mere pencil and its value as a collectible due to your independently written book. So it’s not worth the bother.

    By contrast what the astronauts got when they fenced NASA’s goods was substantial value that directly stemmed from the work for hire they did for NASA, so NASA would have been able to recover it.

  • McGlynn

    There is precedence to the sale of government issued property by veterans of World War 2. Those veterans kept weapons, clothing and equipment that have been coming onto the collector market for the last 40 years. Dutch Van Kirk, the navigator on the Enola Gay, sold his log book used on the first Atomic Bomb mission over Japan for $300,000. The US Government never came to collect the log book at the auction. That is the same for all the Civil War equipment, World War 1 material that has appeared on the market over the last century.

    One has to ask why the government decided to chase the astronauts. Why didn’t they chase all the veterans selling off government property? That equipment was not given to veterans by government officials. The space artifacts were given to the astronauts by the managers within NASA and there is contemporary and current documentation to prove it. In fact, one former manager confirmed that fact in writing to Congress and it is listed in the Congressional Record.

    The Apollo Era artifacts were given freely by management and astronauts as gifts during “Splashdown” (after mission) parties to various ground support people as affirmation and reward for a job well done. The current Apollo Era astronauts referred to in HR4158 have also donated much of their collections to museums, institutions and foundations all around the country. James Lovell donated many artifacts including the famous Genesis text to the Adler Planetarium. Gene Cernan and Neil Armstrong donated much of their collections to Purdue. Many items sit in the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

    Astronauts have also donated their material and time to many charitable foundations for fundraising activities such as the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation or the Museum of Flight. They have given their time, talent and treasure for many causes, so to suggest that the occasional sale of an object diminishes their legacy is incorrect and shows a lack of insight into what those men have done for this country as well as museums and charitable organizations both during and after their time with NASA.The aforementioned deeds were taken into account when this bill was passed through the Congress and signed by the President.

    Unfortunately, the bill didn’t go far enough to include the ground support personnel and post 1978 astronaut corp. Hopefully, that omission will rectified in the future.

  • Courtney

    Lots of speculation here on the law and government property – pretty much all wrong. I work as a lawyer for NASA – I wasn’t one of the lawyers who worked this particular issue so these are my personal comments, not any statement by or for NASA or the Federal government.

    With that out of the way, I thought it would be helpful to give folks the legal context and why the astronauts needed this legislation to keep the artifacts at issue.

    Under the Constitution, only Congress has the exclusive power to direct the disposition of government property. See Article 4, Section 3: “The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.”

    In exercising this exclusive power, Congress passed (among other laws) the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949 (FPAS). The FPAS provides a comprehensive administrative process for dispositioning Federal government property and gave authority to manage that process to the GSA. The FPAS was referenced in the original 1958 Space Act and NASA was (and still is) required to comply with the requirements of the FPAS (since amended) when dispositioning Federal property. See 51 USC 20113(c )(4).

    This matters to the astronaut property because the NASA folks involved at the time did not follow the requirements of the FPAS when the property ended up in the astronauts’ possession. What people thought they were doing or what they meant to do back in the 60s and 70s is irrelevant. If they didn’t follow the FPAS, the property still belongs to the Federal government by law – under the rules mandated by Congress. It would be unconstitutional for NASA to assert it had the authority transfer title to Federal property without following the requirements laid out by Congress.

    As I understand it, NASA OGC said (1) because the legal requirements specified by Congress weren’t followed, (2) the property still belongs to the Federal government. (3) NASA doesn’t have the authority to make a determination that the astronauts own the property because the Constitution gives that authority to Congress. (4) Since Congress has the exclusive authority to decide who owns Federal property, it was up to Congress to decide whether it wanted to create an exception to the laws relating to the transfer of Federal property for the astronauts.

    Congress did, so the law was passed.

  • Heinrich Monroe

    As I said, I think what we’re talking about here are what’s known in the ‘biz as “secondary relics”. These are relics that aren’t parts of the revered astronaut (like Neil Armstrong’s hair clippings that his barber was going to sell), but relics that these cosmic saints had touched. The former are “primary relics”.

    I don’t think NASA places much value in secondary relics, unless perhaps they contribute strongly to mission history.

    If the astronauts were fencing government property that was itself of non-trivial market value, pray tell why didn’t NASA anticipate that when these folks left the astronaut corps? Again, three words would have done it. NASA probably mistakenly assumed that these things were going to be treated as personal souvenirs and not marketable relics. That the astronauts used them for the latter just impacts their legacy.

    NASA doesn’t care about getting the money these guys got from their fencing. What it cares about is the appearance of monetary greed in the public legacy of the astronaut corps. That reflects on the astronaut corps as well as on the personal legacy of the individual astronauts. The vision of astronauts as saints of exploration must be protected.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Hi Heinrich –

    “Of course, it wont be long before we see for sale the underwear of the SEAL who killed Bin Laden, right? Probably not Navy property. They’d have every right to do it, but that act would certainly tarnish their legacy.”

    My guess is that the gun used to kill bin Laden will go on display at Annapolis, beside a unit citation. They may be lent by the Navy to the 9/11 memorial in New York City for a while, though.

    If that single page from that Gemini pad serves to inspire your friend and his friends, I can see absolutely no harm done, but instead a lot of good.

    You did not tell us where the rest of the Gemini pad was at, nor who sold it, nor why. Perhaps it was done for charitable fund raising, or to meet some pressing financial need. You also left out your friend’s plans for its final disposition.

    It’s strange to consider, but based on experience, even the most famous people end up as a box of papers somewhere.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Courtney wrote @ September 30th, 2012 at 9:36 am

    really? Since one can go to EBAY and buy an “Authentic” F-14 (or other airplane) flight manual or other “things” and the Navy or other military branches are not raiding the houses of people doing that…you have to wonder what legal idiot at NASA came up with that theory.

    I am starting to view that incompetence is a NASA commonality RGO

  • Robert G. Oler

    Heinrich Monroe wrote @ September 30th, 2012 at 11:01 am

    If the astronauts were fencing government property that was itself of non-trivial market value, pray tell why didn’t NASA anticipate that when these folks left the astronaut corps? Again, three words would have done it. NASA probably mistakenly assumed that these things were going to be treated as personal souvenirs and not marketable relics. That the astronauts used them for the latter just impacts their legacy. ”

    Memory fails but that explanation does not hold water. Which Apollo astronaut (one of the Moon walkers) did some statute thing ie left a statute on the Moon and sold replicas…

    so the notion that someone would not try and profit off the situation was well naive.

    NASA is doing this because 1) the NASA folks have far to much time on their hands and 2) at NASA they believe that they are the sum and total of “space” in this country and anyone else doing anything else is well bad.

    At some point shortly (shorter rather then latter) we are going to see private astronauts go up into space and sell things that they have taken there…

    the agency just needs to be cleansed just as Jesus went through the temple (of course I am quite sure the Ralph Reed look alikes were back at it the next day) RGO

  • Larry

    Courtney,

    I have a question for you as a NASA attorney? Why did NASA wait 40 years to pursue the astronauts? The agency knew through it’s numerous OIG reports that the astronauts had been selling artifacts for almost twenty years. So why did the agency wake up one day in 2011 and have a JSC based Deputy GC start replevin proceedings against Dr. Mitchell and Mr. Lovell?

    Larry

  • Heinrich Monroe

    At some point shortly (shorter rather then latter) we are going to see private astronauts go up into space and sell things that they have taken there…

    That’s an excellent point. But there’s a big difference. These private astronauts are not going to be revered as the saints of exploration. They’ll be smiled at and cheered on, but the note pads they breathe on won’t turn into secondary relics of high value. Not sure if these private astronauts will even be “heroes”. It remains to be seen if these private astronauts can be spun as representing the country as much as they represent their brand.

    So these private astronauts may sell their stuff, but it won’t have anywhere near the value of the stuff from the good ‘ol days.

    Of course, as the saints of exploration take a nobility dive and sell this stuff, they will appear less saintly, and the value of their stuff will drop accordingly, as will their return as speakers and for the books they publish. Their heroic legacy is worth a lot, and they mess with that legacy at their peril.

  • Larry

    Heinrich,

    Your conclusion on tying the value of flown artifacts to the astronauts’ reputation is a bit of a stretch. To paraphrase, It’s not about the astronauts, it’s about the artifacts. The artifacts will still be interesting items despite what people think of the astronauts. It’s about rarity and not personality. If that was the case, then based on Buzz Aldrin’s sales mentality, his Apollo 11 material should be of little value. Yet, Apollo 11 artifacts sold by Buzz since the mid 90′s have risen to close to mid six figures. Even Buzz’s signature still commands three to four figures depending on his mood. And people still pay his fees.

    When something becomes commonplace, then it loses it’s value as a commodity. A Human landing on the Moon is not commonplace. May not be in our lifetimes.

    Larry

  • Courtney

    @Larry

    Sorry, I don’t actually know why things recently came to a head. The question of when is it appropriate for an astronaut to make a personal profit as a result of his participation in the space program has been around at least since the stamps went up on Apollo 15.

    @RGO

    It was apparently a good enough argument that Congress agreed that the law needed to be changed.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Heinrich Monroe wrote @ September 30th, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    “That’s an excellent point. But there’s a big difference. These private astronauts are not going to be revered as the saints of exploration. They’ll be smiled at and cheered on, but the note pads they breathe on won’t turn into secondary relics of high value. Not sure if these private astronauts will even be “heroes”. It remains to be seen if these private astronauts can be spun as representing the country as much as they represent their brand. ”

    HMM not so sure about that.

    By the time we go back to the Moon (or someone does but I’ll bet dollars the vehicle that lands people on the Moon has for its protection “the flag of The United States” (sorry I like that from TWW)…it will be a significant distance from when Armstong through Geno did it and for the “old” it might not be as much; but for the folks under 40 who will be near 50 and below when it happens…it will be “the first time”.

    How or if they become heroes will depend on a lot of factors not the least of which in my view is how they associate with in my belief; the country. Musk for instance is doing very smart things…his vehicles have the flag of the country on them (no reason for him to) and he associates his efforts with that of the countries.

    The country is changing as well (something that the GOP is having a hard time with) the notion of doing things by the government just to prove we are tough…is fading.

    It might be as you suggest; but somehow I suspect not. See Charles Slim Lindbergh. RGO

  • Robert G. Oler

    Courtney wrote @ September 30th, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    “It was apparently a good enough argument that Congress agreed that the law needed to be changed.”

    Maybe but my guess is that what prompted the movement was the overreaction on NASA’s part…whoever thought that notion up;; well it is one of the things that has made me question Bolden’s leadership. That should have been stopped at the source…

    It reminds me of the time that I contacted the space station one late night coming home from KEFD and later in the day the PAO was upset about the conversation… far to sensitive.

    RGO WB5MZO

  • Heinrich Monroe

    Thank you for your wisdom Courtney, that’s very helpful. I stand corrected. So there IS something on the books about this stuff being government property, and the deciding factor isn’t one of “default”. I’m reluctant to believe that these astronauts knew they were selling government property, however. In their minds, the casual and undocumented “Sure, just keep it” worked for them.

    This legislation was not intended to defend the right of astronauts to be entrepreneurs and sell their mementos, but was just intended to clean up a serious legal mess. That’s why it was specific to astronauts, I guess.

    Apparently, as you say, it was just a big mistake that FPAS was not followed by NASA back in the day. One might wonder why. How could such an important statute be ignored? Here’s my guess. First and foremost, the property managers believed the legend that NASA was trying to create. This was that these saints of exploration were noble and ethical as well as heroes. In casually giving them these souvenirs of their journey, they would never be expected do something as crass as trying to sell them for profit. That was probably a good enough reason to keep the lawyers out of the way.

    Your conclusion on tying the value of flown artifacts to the astronauts’ reputation is a bit of a stretch. To paraphrase, It’s not about the astronauts, it’s about the artifacts.

    That’s possible. You’re saying that even as these astronauts sully their legacy by selling this stuff, that sullied legacy doesn’t affect the value of the relics they sell. That could well be true. One wonders, however, if Buzz hadn’t cashed in on so many of his souvenirs, whether they might have even more value than they do now. I’ll bet that if Neil Armstrong had, just before he died, offered one of his Apollo 11 mementos up for sale, its value would have been absolutely through the roof. Far greater than the same Apollo 11 memento from Buzz. Why? Because this memento would have come from someone who was an extraordinarily private person who took great pride in that privacy. We respected him enormously for that demeanor. The value would then have been more about Neil Armstrong than about the memento itself.

    If that single page from that Gemini pad serves to inspire your friend and his friends, I can see absolutely no harm done, but instead a lot of good.

    It is indeed gratifying that an account executive and the investment bankers that visit him in his 65th floor office get inspired. But to the extent this is inspirational stuff, one wonders how many more people could have been inspired by it if it were in a museum. But maybe this account executive and his investment banker friends don’t go to museums? Yes, this could be looked at as remedial inspiration for investment bankers who never go to museums! Take pity on them.

    In fact, it’s probably not even inspirational stuff. A lot of it is as inspirational as a head of a buck that comes out of a taxidermist. I’m guessing it’s often a symbol for collecting success and money to burn. Less a “they’re so good for doing it” token to hang on your wall, and more a “I’m so good for having it” token.

  • Larry

    Courtney,

    I do know that NASA had been discussing the issues regarding Apollo 15, since 1972, but even then that was due to the unauthorized stowage of covers and not the sale of GI property. Still, there are memos from Kraft, Low and Myers from 1972 and 1973 that stated that the astronauts could keep certain property including items used in the spacecraft. Every one of the astronauts was lead to believe that they were given the property. Furthermore, the Bonded Storage Building manager, Bud Ream, was contacting the guys to ask if they wanted the left over material from their mission before it was “surveyed.” “Surveyed” is the military term for disposal or throwing in the trash.

    I can see why the astronauts felt that they were given the material. One thing that everyone should understand is that the astronauts could not take anything out of their spacecraft at the end of a mission. As one Moonwalker put it, “We went in naked (to the suit fitting room) and we left naked (due to lunar quarantine).” All the equipment and personal effects were left in the capsule until it was either returned to the astronaut or went into storage. The astronauts did not “steal” the material as was alleged in the media during the Mitchell court case. The camera was given back to Edgar. He could not have taken it from the spacecraft, since he had to leave the spacecraft without anything including clothes on his back due to the lunar quarantine regulations.

    We all learned about FPAS when the Florida based DOJ attorney stated that no one in NASA management had the authority to gift anything to the astronauts. That only Congress could make a gift of government property. One astronaut would later comment that when they presented President Nixon with a tool used on the lunar surface that James Fletcher was present and Dr. Fletcher wasn’t requiring the tool back from the President at that time. That particular piece now resides in the Nixon Library in California.

    There was no support for Mitchell at the time of his case and he was looking at facing a federal agency being represented by the legal arm of the federal government in a federal court presided over by a federal judge. The cost of the case was estimated to be over $100,000 and he had just had his motion to dismiss the case denied by that federal judge. At that point, Mitchell had a better chance of getting struck by lightning twice, then winning the case. He capitulated due to the immense costs involved and still smarts over being accused of thievery by the media and the public. That all changed when the sights were set on Jim Lovell.

    Again, I think we are all trying to understand why NASA changed it’s mind on the pursuit of these artifacts after so many years. Especially, since the NASA OIG reported the sale of these artifacts to the agency over the past twenty years.

    Larry

  • E.P. Grondine

    Hi Heinrich –

    I’m sorry that you can not understand Dr. Aldrin’s continued design work over the last 50 years, or beliitle it due to disagreement with his goals or architectures.

    If Astronaut (Dr.) Mitchell wishes to use his souvenirs to support his own researches, that is fine with me.

    As far as Dr. Armstrong goes, perhaps if he had of been more publicly active earlier, it would have had a good effect on publics’ views on space. (I am very interested in how NASA’s terrible response to Bush Snr’s request in 1989 affected him personally.)

  • E.P. Grondine

    Hi RGO –

    “I am starting to view that incompetence is a NASA commonality.”

    Having covered NASA’s response to the impact hazard for 15 years,
    I can tell you that NASA still has some great scientists, as well as some very incompetent ones. That extends to NASA management as well.

    For example, consider that
    1) the Ed Weiler Spec Telescope is some 5 billion over budget,
    2) NASA just blew $9 billion or so on ATK’s fiasco
    3) There’s no clear NASA in house report on how that happened
    4) We have no idea how Griffin came up with his architecture
    5) At the same time NASA harassed former employees about their
    conveyance of items that were given to them by NASA
    6) None of those former employees have received any compensation yet for that legal harassment

    As far as cleansing the “temple” goes, one has to consider the general insanity of various space “enthusiasts”. Our ideas about NASA as a “temple” of engineering excellence and their ideas about space “temples” are likely to sadly be far different. Consider the difference between Heinrich’s ideas of “clean” and yours and mine.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Hi Larry –

    Great question. Perhaps it was simply to tie up the OIG’s hands, ore perhaps it was simply busy work by the OIG so that they could avoid looking at real problems.

    Another question one has to ask how incompetent a lawyer or accountant or manager has to be before they get fired.

  • Larry

    E.P.,

    The OIG usually avoided going after the Apollo astronauts. Their reports reflect that strategy. Their reports show that even when they did request guidance in auction sales by the Apollo astronauts, the General Counsel failed to respond in some cases. At least that is what occurred in 2008 when the OIG notified the HQ GC of an March 2008 auction and the GC never responded and the OIG closed the file in July of 2008 with no response.

    It wasn’t the OIG. They were not involved in either the Mitchell case or the Lovell seizure.

    Larry

  • E.P. Grondine

    Hi Larry –

    Thanks for that news. I have this idea about how to free up some funds to compensate the astronauts for their legal fees… A couple of GS salaries ought to do it..

  • Larry

    E.P.

    The legal fees were paid, the Congressional bill has been passed into law and the matter is over at this point. What it does show is that the “old boys” still have clout on the Hill.

    While I still have some questions concerning the timing of the whole issue, the matter has been resolved.

    Larry

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