Last November, Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell sold the page from the Lunar Module System Activation Checklist that contains the calculations that saved his near-fatal mission. It got $US388,375 at Heritage Auctions. Now NASA has stopped the sale.
Come on NASA, you know I love you guys dearly, but don't be dicks.
Why are you doing this now? Many astronauts have sold bits of mission souvenirs through the years and you've never cared before. They didn't sell irreplaceable Moon rocks or any other crucial NASA gear. They sold Moon porn pasted on Lunar activity checklists or pages like these — photocopied manuals with their own writing and drawings on them. Also watches, gloves and different pieces of hardware that otherwise would have been destroyed.
I understand that some things must be preserved for posterity, but there has to be some reasonable measure. And the fact is that the people who are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for these items would do a better job at preserving them than NASA would ever do. The reality is that NASA has lost or destroyed countless data reels and documents from the Apollo years. Gone, forever.
Let's draw the line somewhere sane. After all, these guys are heroes. They may have reached the stars and gotten the best ride of their lives paid by the US government, but they risked their lives on a daily basis and then risked them again on barely-tested spacecraft that went into bloody space.
Lovell himself flew many missions: pilot for Gemini 7 in December 1965 and commander for Gemini 12 in 1966, flying next to Buzz Aldrin. In 1968 he was part of the Apollo 8 crew, the first three humans to fly to the moon. On April 11, 1970, Lovell fired to the moon along with Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert and Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise aboard Apollo 13. Two days later, an explosion rocked their faulty ship and almost killed them.
The page in question was scribbled a couple of hours after that explosion, with Lovell scrambling to make the necessary calculations to establish a new route to the Moon. Without that new route, they wouldn't have survived. He, his crew and the Apollo engineers on the ground turned a terrifying failure into a resounding success that saved the face of the space program and the country.
But apparently NASA doesn't care about any of that. According to NASA Deputy Chief Counsel Donna M Shafer, there's "nothing to indicate" that the ownership of the page was transferred to Lovell. She argues that only "NASA has the authority to clear NASA property for sale." She also threatened the astronauts: "There is potential risk of the items being seized by the government until title issues have been resolved."
So Donna, where the hell was NASA back when Lowell took these home? You know, when nobody gave a damn about these or other items, the countless historic objects that have been destroyed or misplaced? Perhaps someone at NASA, in these times of crisis, just got greedy. That $US300,000 can support the salaries of a good number of researchers and engineers. I may understand that — even while it's relatively just peanuts compared to the program's budget — but perhaps you should leave this stuff alone. If you didn't care enough to keep and maintain this stuff 50 years ago, you should just shut up.
Imagine the US Army going after World War II veterans for selling some of their gear in an auction — something that has happened countless times. It would be asinine. Sure, technically it's US property, but who the hell cares at this point?
So please, just cut the guys some slack and let them sell whatever they kept as a souvenir. If they need the money and someone is willing to pay for it and keep it in a museum or some collection, so be it. You keep doing amazing science and everyone will be happy. [ABC via Slashgear]