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Court Battle Over Apollo 14 Camera

July 1, 2011

Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon, is currently locked in a legal battle with NASA over who owns a movie camera that flew aboard the Apollo 14 mission with him in 1971.

Mitchell apparently decided he deserved a souvenir and took the lunar movie camera home with him after his mission ended. Then, 40 years later, he tried to auction off the camera.

“Objects from the lunar trips to the moon were ultimately mounted and then presented to the astronauts as a gift after they had helped NASA on a mission,” Donald Jacobson, Mitchell’s lawyer, told Reuters.

However, NASA is saying that there is no written record of transfer of ownership and they would like the camera back.

According to Reuters, NASA officials noticed the lunar camera on Bonhams before it was released for auction for an estimated $60,000 to $80,000. Once Bonhams discovered there was an issue as to who the legal owner of the camera was, the auction house removed the item from the sale “pending further discussion between NASA and the consignor.”

NASA filed the lawsuit in Miami federal court on Wednesday, accusing Mitchell of illegally possessing NASA equipment and attempting to profit from such equipment. NASA learned of the auction of the camera in March, according to the suit.

The item was labeled “Movie Camera from the Lunar Surface” and billed as one of two cameras from the Apollo 14 lunar module Antares. The lot description said the item came directly from the private collection of NASA astronaut and Apollo pilot Edgar Mitchell, the suit said.

“All equipment and property used during NASA operations remains the property of NASA unless explicitly released or transferred to another party,” the suit said. The government has made several requests for Mitchell to return the camera, but received no response.

Mitchell told the Palm Beach Post that astronauts took dozens of items home with them after a mission. He said the lunar module that he piloted was actually blown up, once the mission was over. He believes the camera and other items in his possession are nothing more than “government junk.”

He admitted to the Post that NASA had, in the past, asked for him to return the camera. However, he believed the matter had been finally laid to rest.

Mitchell has made headlines in the past for his apparent belief in the existence of extraterrestrial life, including his claims that aliens have better technology than humans.

The government is asking the court to stop Mitchell from selling the camera to anyone, to order its safe return and to declare that the United States has “good, clean and exclusive title” to the lunar camera.

Image Caption: Mitchell studies a map while walking on the Moon, February 6, 1971. Credit: NASA/Alan Shepard

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