Who Owns Apollo 14′s Moon Camera?

The fate of a camera used on the moon by NASA astronauts is going to trial. The camera, used on the Apollo 14 moon mission in 1971, was in the possession of astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon. The 6-millimeter data acquisition camera (DAC) was intended to be discarded with other equipment in the lunar module and left on the moon, but Mitchell elected to take it with him as a souvenir. Forty years later, the 80 year old astronaut decided to sell it, and that’s when the U.S. Government stepped in.

Filed in U.S. District Court in Miami, the central question in the case is fairly straightforward: If the government throws a camera away on the moon and an astronaut then picks it up and saves it, does it become his to own and sell? Mitchell attempted get the suit dismissed on Florida’s statute of limitations, but Judge Daniel Hurley ruled that the “United States is not bound by state statutes of limitation”. Mitchell also claimed that the camera was given to him as a gift in line with NASA’s then-policies governing spent equipment, but Judge Hurley ruled such a question was “inappropriate” for the purposes of the motion to dismiss.

Mitchell attempted to sell the camera in June month through a New York auction house. Valued between $60,000 and $80,000, it was withdrawn before its sale could proceed. The government claims that, despite “multiple requests” for Mitchell to return the camera, “no response [was] provided.”

The jury trial is scheduled for October 2012, on earth.

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