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.