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Apollo 14 astronaut Ed Mitchell on the Moon, February 5, 1971. Credit: NASA.

America vs. Astronaut: The Case of the Lifted Lunar Camera

14 Oct , 2011

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Imagine you’re an astronaut. You have what it takes to be selected to fly a mission to the Moon. You train, make the trip, and become one of literally a handful of humans ever to have walked on the lunar surface. And when you leave the desolate beauty of the Moon behind in your Landing Module, and are just about to re-enter the Lunar Orbiter and head for home, you see one of the cameras that you used on the surface. If you leave it where it is it’s going to be lost forever, crashing into the lunar surface with the rest of the lander. If you take it, you’ll be going against standard NASA operating procedure since you hadn’t filled out the proper paperwork beforehand for official mission items appropriated by astronauts. Leave a piece of history behind to be destroyed or salvage it as a souvenir… what do you do?

Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell decided to bring the camera back, and now, 40 years later, his decision is going to land him in court.

Last June, the U.S. government brought a case against the 81-year-old moonwalker after he offered the 16-millimeter Data Acquisition Camera (DAC) up for sale at New York’s Bonhams auction house as part of their May “Space History Sale”. While it was common for Apollo astronauts to be able to keep various pieces of equipment and space suits as mementos after their missions, certain paperwork had to be filled out beforehand… it’s just the NASA way.

The late Donald “Deke” Slayton, head of the astronaut corps in 1971, mentioned this during an interview with the Tuscon Daily Citizen in 1972.

“They give me a list of things they’re going to bring back,” Slayton said. “I give it to the program office and they bring ’em back.”

This Data Acquisition Camera (DAC) was one of two 16mm cameras on the Apollo 14 lunar module "Antares" when it landed on the moon on Feb, 5, 1971. Credit: Bonhams.

The DAC, it seems, was not on any lists handed in by Mitchell. Yet it was never intended to be on the ride back to Earth, either. Rather its destination was to be in the bottom of a crater made by the landing module when it crashed back onto the Moon.

Must have seemed a rather wasteful end for a historic – and valuable – piece of equipment. Were it to go to auction it could have fetched between $60,000 to $80,000.

“We had an agreement with NASA management, that small items that didn’t exceed our weight limitations, we could bring back.”

– Edgar Mitchell to WPTV

Regardless of its value – sentimental or otherwise – NASA’s lawyer claims that Mitchell was contacted several times about returning the camera but never responded. Mitchell’s attorney, on the other hand, argues that too many years have passed for NASA to now claim the camera as stolen property.

When it was brought before a Florida district court judge to have the case dismissed, however, the judge had no option but to side with the government.

“‘It is well settled that the United States is not bound by state statutes of limitation or subject to the defense of laches in enforcing its rights,'” quoted Judge Daniel Hurley of an appeals court ruling. “Defendant’s allegations that NASA intended the camera to be destroyed after the mission or that it routinely awarded used mission equipment to astronauts do not preclude as a matter of law Plaintiff’s contrary allegation that Defendant impermissibly converted the camera.”

Bottom line: the case goes in front of a jury in October 2012.

Read more about this on collectSPACE.com.

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just a decent person
Guest
just a decent person
October 14, 2011 4:41 AM

“…the judge had no option but to side with the government.” ???

No option? Hmm, I guess I’m gonna have to look up the word ‘judge’ in the dictionary.

Cam Kirmser
Guest
Cam Kirmser
October 14, 2011 1:44 PM

Go ahead and look it up, but the judge had to “judge” according to the law. He had no choice.

It’s the JURY’s place to decide if a law is idiotic or wrongly applied. Not the judge’s.

Any judge who decides contrary to the law, regardless of the circumstances, is abusing his position and should be impeached.

The government should have never brought this to court, but they did – and, stupidly so. The first judge decided as he should have; in accordance with the law. Now, a jury will be able to right that atrocity.

Marcin
Guest
October 14, 2011 2:10 PM

You are wrong. Should deciding what law is be this simple we would not have to have judges. Judge has to interpret the law, he has to decide what law exactly means in every particular case. Sometimes he can even go against exact wording of the law (google “contra legem”) if he thinks it will preserve the will of lawmaker better.

Cam Kirmser
Guest
Cam Kirmser
October 14, 2011 2:27 PM
No, I am not. The interpretation required is not whether or not the law is good, but what it means and whether or not it has been violated. If a judge was empowered to determine a law’s validity, then why have a jury? The jury is there, not only to determine guilt, but also to protect the accused from improper use of the law. Witness, for example, the current abuse of power by judges by instructing jurors to decide only according to the law. That is not what a jury is for. They are to determine guilt, not the technicality of merely breaking the law. It is plain that Mitchell broke the law – in this case, from… Read more »
Marcin
Guest
October 14, 2011 3:30 PM

Well, it may be that I interpret this situation wrongly than. US law is quite different than Polish one (we have no jury like countries with common law).

I see it like this: he may be in the wrong because he violated internal NASA rules but I doubt it breaks any laws. He didn’t steal this camera. It was meant to be destroyed after all.

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
October 14, 2011 9:29 PM

Also here [Sweden] I think the courts have certain discretion on what cases to handle. (Being subject to overrule by higher courts.)

Because not everything admissible to court, not everything violating a law, is reasonable to assemble a court over. Sometimes you just write it off as not enough ROI on societies resources to pursue.

This seems to be one such case; over here, that is. And if you think this should go down big time in US, I have a bridge that you may be interested in buying…

Lights in the Dark
Guest
October 15, 2011 3:08 PM

The ruling mentioned above was in regards to having the case dismissed. Because there’s no statute of limitations in a federal case regarding government property, which is what the “laches” refers to, the judge couldn’t really dismiss it on the grounds that Mitchell’s defense was claiming.

just a decent person
Guest
just a decent person
October 14, 2011 4:41 AM

“…the judge had no option but to side with the government.” ???

No option? Hmm, I guess I’m gonna have to look up the word ‘judge’ in the dictionary.

Chew Tansy
Guest
Chew Tansy
October 14, 2011 5:24 AM

The DAC is the camera that was mounted above the Lunar Module Pilot’s window that recorded the landings and takeoffs and some EVA activity in front of the LM. It wasn’t brought by the astronauts onto the surface of the Moon.

Lights in the Dark
Guest
October 14, 2011 11:50 PM

This was one of three 16mm Maurer Data Acquisition Cameras carried on Apollo 14. One was in the CM, two were in the LM. http://www.lpi.usra.edu/lunar/missions/apollo/apollo_14/photography/

Chew Tansy
Guest
Chew Tansy
October 14, 2011 5:24 AM

The DAC is the camera that was mounted above the Lunar Module Pilot’s window that recorded the landings and takeoffs and some EVA activity in front of the LM. It wasn’t brought by the astronauts onto the surface of the Moon.

EagleUK
Member
EagleUK
October 14, 2011 6:00 AM

So confiscate the camera, give it to the Smithsonian, and fine the guy a few hundred bucks. Why do we have to have a jury trial over this?

EagleUK
Member
EagleUK
October 14, 2011 6:00 AM

So confiscate the camera, give it to the Smithsonian, and fine the guy a few hundred bucks. Why do we have to have a jury trial over this?

Greg Maynard
Guest
Greg Maynard
October 14, 2011 6:34 AM
The terminology used is a bit confusing. The Lunar Module had two parts, the descent stage and the ascent stage. When landing on the moon they are joined together with the astronauts standing in the ascent stage. On leaving the moon, the ascent stage uses the descent stage as a launchpad leaving it behind. The Ascent stage then docks with the Command Module which has been orbiting all this time, rocks and astronauts and equipment etc is transferred to the Command Module, and the Ascent stage is jettisoned to crash back into the moon. The Lunar and Planetary Institute wensite says that Apollo14 carried 4 16mm DACs, onein the CM and 2 in the LM. “The cameras were… Read more »
Greg Maynard
Guest
Greg Maynard
October 14, 2011 6:34 AM
The terminology used is a bit confusing. The Lunar Module had two parts, the descent stage and the ascent stage. When landing on the moon they are joined together with the astronauts standing in the ascent stage. On leaving the moon, the ascent stage uses the descent stage as a launchpad leaving it behind. The Ascent stage then docks with the Command Module which has been orbiting all this time, rocks and astronauts and equipment etc is transferred to the Command Module, and the Ascent stage is jettisoned to crash back into the moon. The Lunar and Planetary Institute wensite says that Apollo14 carried 4 16mm DACs, onein the CM and 2 in the LM. “The cameras were… Read more »
serial_ tech
Guest
serial_ tech
October 14, 2011 6:35 AM

These men are heroes, this case is a travesty and a sham. It was 40 years and a major piece of history, and since NASA never laid a finger on it post-mission, perhaps it holds the key to shutting the hoax believers up since they couldn’t use their iron defense of “NASA doctored it” anymore.

The one who should be on trial is this judge. All he’s ever known is the comfort of this pale blue dot’s atmo. He has no idea the training and dedication it took for those boys to reach one of the roughest terrains we set astronauts in, the Fra Mauro crater.

Any jury who sides with the government deserves to be tasered.

serial_ tech
Guest
serial_ tech
October 14, 2011 6:35 AM

These men are heroes, this case is a travesty and a sham. It was 40 years and a major piece of history, and since NASA never laid a finger on it post-mission, perhaps it holds the key to shutting the hoax believers up since they couldn’t use their iron defense of “NASA doctored it” anymore.

The one who should be on trial is this judge. All he’s ever known is the comfort of this pale blue dot’s atmo. He has no idea the training and dedication it took for those boys to reach one of the roughest terrains we set astronauts in, the Fra Mauro crater.

Any jury who sides with the government deserves to be tasered.

ProfMOZ
Member
ProfMOZ
October 14, 2011 9:59 PM

You’re right! This guy risked his life several times over for the Country and people. I just think if the Russians would have salvaged it from the lunar surface, would NASA ask them to uphold ‘holy NASA procedure’…. hahaha

keith mason
Guest
keith mason
October 14, 2011 6:43 AM

They haven’t had it for 40 years AND they were going to wreck it… what’s the problem?

keith mason
Guest
keith mason
October 14, 2011 6:43 AM

They haven’t had it for 40 years AND they were going to wreck it… what’s the problem?

Marcin
Guest
October 14, 2011 7:11 AM

Wow, you really do hate your astronauts. I hope jury will decide wiser.

Marcin
Guest
October 14, 2011 7:11 AM

Wow, you really do hate your astronauts. I hope jury will decide wiser.

Ted Judah
Guest
October 14, 2011 8:25 AM

Edgar Mitchell is my least favorite Apollo astronaut because of his kooky pseudo-science beliefs. He didn’t deserve to walk on the moon, in my opinion, but let the guy sell his trinkets.

Ted Judah
Guest
October 14, 2011 8:25 AM

Edgar Mitchell is my least favorite Apollo astronaut because of his kooky pseudo-science beliefs. He didn’t deserve to walk on the moon, in my opinion, but let the guy sell his trinkets.

Cam Kirmser
Guest
Cam Kirmser
October 14, 2011 2:18 PM

“Didn’t deserve to walk on the moon?”

Did he lack the skills? The abilities?

Or, do you simply condemn him because of his opinions, ignoring whether or not he can do the job?

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
October 14, 2011 9:37 PM

He doesn’t “do the job” any longer if he support pseudo-science instead of space exploration. This is that simple, I think, in retrospect he shouldn’t have been among those walking the moon. It wasn’t just a job that stopped right there and then because of the larger context, and he ought to be aware of that.

We similarly condemn great scientists that turn woo-ish, and wished they weren’t the guys making those discoveries in the first place.

Cam Kirmser
Guest
Cam Kirmser
October 14, 2011 10:24 PM

At one time, human powered – and, I mean, powered by a tool made by humans, not mere muscle power – flight was a psuedo-science.

What was psuedo yesterday, might be real tomorrow.

At any rate, to condemn him because of his opinions is not the way to science.

Fraser
Guest
October 14, 2011 8:30 AM

‘ literally a handful of humans ever to have walked on the lunar surface’

Hmm, you sure about that? wink

Fraser
Guest
October 14, 2011 8:30 AM

‘ literally a handful of humans ever to have walked on the lunar surface’

Hmm, you sure about that? wink

Lights in the Dark
Guest
October 14, 2011 11:44 PM

At the time of Apollo 14, 4 men had walked on the Moon before Mitchell and Shepard. Even for your average high school shop teacher that’s a handful. wink

interI0per
Member
interI0per
October 14, 2011 12:49 PM

wasn’t there some scuttlebutt recently about the original down linked videotape of the first landing?

interI0per
Member
interI0per
October 14, 2011 12:49 PM

wasn’t there some scuttlebutt recently about the original down linked videotape of the first landing?

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