Full Coverage: Challenger wreckage sale|
Seller speaks, claims ignorance of law
November 2, 1999, 1:45 p.m. ET — Now that eBay has ended the auction early (according to MSNBC "for listing violations"), it appears that the seller is trying to claim ignorance of possibly violating federal law. In a response to email requests from reporters, the seller, self-identified only as "Chuck," has sent similar if not identical replies.
"I had no idea it was illegal to posses or sell this item, and would gladly return [it] to proper authorities," he wrote in one email to SpaceViews.
NASA, eBay remove auction listing
November 1, 1999, 11:35 p.m. ET — It now appears the auction has been ended by eBay.
Attempts to access the lot's description now returns a message, "The item you requested (190410340) is invalid or no longer in our database."
A quick search of eBay indicates only this auction was halted; the seller's account and his other lots were not suspended.
According to information posted by NASA Watch, the delay removing the "heatshield" from the site was "due to a combination of playing telephone tag with NASA (so as to understand their concerns) and some technical problems at eBay."
Remaining to be answered is whether the space agency will take actions to recover the tile and/or prosecute the owner/seller.
Prior to the auction ending, collectSPACE was informed by a reliable source that NASA has FBI agents assigned to monitor the internet looking for such items as Challenger debris. If true, we continue to question why it took nearly four days to end this sale.
Auction continues, six bids raise value
November 1, 1999, 10:00 p.m. ET — Since breaking this story last night, several developments have transpired:
And yet, given all the above, four days after the auction opened and nearly 24 hours after it was discovered by collectSPACE, the auction remains open! To add insult to injury, six more bids have been accepted, raising the lot to $331.00 (although still lower than the reserve price).
- Media coverage: Soon after our story appeared, NASA Watch linked to collectSPACE and added their commmetary on the situation "If this item is authentic, then I certainly hope someone out there arrests these grave robbers who illegally possess this item - and conspire to sell it."
collectSPACE editor Robert Pearlman was interviewed by MSNBC reporter Alan Boyle, and his article was posted this evening citing new facts gleemed from interviews with NASA, the Coast Guard, and eBay (see below).
Florida Today's Space Today posted an article as well as linking to NASA Watch for more details.
SpaceViews pointed visitors to collectSPACE for more information.
Lou Dobb's space.com posted an article but chose not to credit collectSPACE or any of the above sources for breaking the story or alerting them of the situation.
- eBay: According to interviews conducted with both MSNBC and Florida Today reporters, the online auction site is aware of the possible illegal nature of the lot, but will not take action until contacted by authorities.
- NASA: Based on an interview with MSNBC, NASA is also aware of the alleged "heatshield" and is investigating further before taking any actions. NASA spokewoman Kirsten Williams told MSNBC if authentic, the space agency would "pursue the return of the tile."
- United States Coast Guard: MSNBC reporter Alan Boyle also contacted Coast Guard Lt. Ron LaBrec who confirmed it was a Coast Guard vessel which reached the wreckage site first and expressed concern if "there's a Coast Guard person, or maybe an ex-Coast Guard person, who would essentially remove government property from the scene of an accident and withhold it from an investigation such as the Challenger disaster."
collectSPACE will continue to post updates to this page until either the sale has been halted or when it closes at 1:24:14 a.m. EST on November 8.
Challenger debris posted to auction site
November 1, 1999 -- In an apparent violation of federal law, a piece of heat shield allegedly recovered from the wreckage of the space shuttle Challenger has been put up for sale on a popular online auction site. The thermal tile was reportedly "pulled from the water of the Atlantic Ocean" on January 28, 1986.
The tile was posted to eBay approximately three days ago on October 28. Based on the lot's description, the Ohio-based seller was on-board the first U.S. Coast Guard ship to arrive at the scene after the tragic explosion. Identified only by his email address, the seller bills the 6" x 6" x 2.5" "black heat shield" as the "ultimate Christmas gift for the space enthusiast or collector."
"I wouldn't be selling but have found myself in a bit of financial distress." continues the seller in his listing.
Included with the tile are 40 pictures taken by the seller of the recovery efforts and "a copy of the letter [he] received from the Coast Guard Commander awarding [him] and [his] crew the 'Coast Guard Unit Commendation' Award for [their] part in the recovery."
The heatshield fragment was listed with a minimum bid of $199.99 with an additional hidden reserve price. Two bids were received at the time this article was posted (although the reserve has yet to be met).
Federal law prohibits possession of debris from the Challenger wreckage. Violation of the law is subject to a maximum $10,000 fine, 10 years in prison or a combination of both. Whether the seller is aware of this regulation is unclear.
This is not, however, the first time eBay's services have been used to sell debris from the ill-fated shuttle. Another individual used the online auction site to sell an alleged "authentic Challenger O-ring" in January of this year.
That auction was halted by eBay shortly after a story appeared on the NASA Watch website alerting to the illegal nature of the item. Although an official at eBay issued a statement indicating they would comply with law enforcement or the space agency, it is unknown if any additional action was taken against the seller.
No apparent actions by eBay or NASA have been taken to investigate or end the current auction. If left unchecked, the auction will end on November 7.
Although eBay prohibits the sale of illegal items on their site, they do not actively monitor individual listings. Instead the auction site relies on other users to alert them of possible violations.
If the heatshield is indeed authentic it is subject to seizure by NASA. If the item is found not to be from Challenger, the seller could still face fraud charges.
An explosion 73 seconds after liftoff claimed the Space Shuttle Challenger and her seven member crew, including school teacher Christa McAuliffe. After tracing the cause of the failure, the debris recovered from the wreckage was buried in abandoned missile silos at Cape Canaveral Air Station. Most of the orbiter Challenger, however, still remains in the ocean.
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