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  NASA inquiry halts sale of astronauts' artifacts (Page 2)

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Author Topic:   NASA inquiry halts sale of astronauts' artifacts
drifting to the right
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posted 01-04-2012 08:23 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for drifting to the right     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Do the GC and IG work strictly within the NASA bureaucracy, or are they an arm of another agency, e.g. the Justice Dept.?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-04-2012 08:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
You can read about the Office of the General Counsel here and the Office of Inspector General here.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-05-2012 12:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Greggy_D:
Okay, let's see the letter then.
I now have the text of the letter. I am waiting a return call from NASA to address some questions and then will elaborate.

chet
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posted 01-05-2012 03:33 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for chet   Click Here to Email chet     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
So NASA is asking for proof of title?

If I were auctioning a bicycle, and NASA asked me for proof of title, I'd tell them to stuff it... I'm sorry Heritage isn't doing the same. If NASA has some proof of title to the artifact there should be no questions about it; likewise if they don't.

And their ugly standard clearly is monetary value — does anyone believe these items would be being scrutinized if their hammer prices were in the hundreds, instead of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-05-2012 04:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by chet:
And their ugly standard clearly is monetary value...
I agree; from an outside, cursory look it does appear that way.

However, it cannot be the only standard. NASA only questioned four lots, among them two of Rusty Schweickart's flown artifacts. But Schweickart sold more than those two items. His Apollo 9 flown PLSS patches sold for the same amount as his LM ID plate, without issue.

So sale price alone did not solely shape NASA's inquiry.

chet
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posted 01-05-2012 04:37 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for chet   Click Here to Email chet     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Your point is well taken, Robert.

NASA's standard seems to be to question high-priced items that have SOME chance of refutation of title; clearly Schweikart's patches don't fit the latter category (since it was known standard practice the astronauts were gifted their suit patches after each mission).

space1
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posted 01-05-2012 04:49 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for space1   Click Here to Email space1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
And yet I wonder if the turnover of patches to the crew members is documented, or if it is on the same level as other items in question (lore or hearsay).

chet
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posted 01-05-2012 05:28 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for chet   Click Here to Email chet     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I can't help thinking the Apollo astronauts should've been more vocal in their support of Ed Mitchell when NASA went after the DAC.

Leon Ford
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posted 01-05-2012 05:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Leon Ford   Click Here to Email Leon Ford     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Chet, I agree with you 100%. I don't think the astronauts understand that if NASA comes for an artifact of mine, I am going to want my money back from the astronaut I purchased the item from. I would hope it doesn't come to that, but these guys need to get a grip on how serious this is.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-05-2012 06:05 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by space1:
And yet I wonder if the turnover of patches to the crew members is documented...
I recall seeing at Christie's a letter on NASA stationery attached to the back of the frame that displayed Irwin's PLSS patches and I remember that NASA certified the stains on his patches as being moon dust.

rjurek349
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posted 01-05-2012 06:44 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for rjurek349   Click Here to Email rjurek349     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Leon Ford:
I would hope it doesn't come to that, but these guys need to get a grip on how serious this is.
Leon - no truer words have been spoken. You know, a quick search on the Heritage archive page shows over $480,000 worth of flown checklists and checklist pages being sold from various astronauts in just the last couple of years, excluding the Lovell checklist in question.

And that's just Heritage. Many more have been sold over the years via other auctions houses, dealers, and private sales. They all have a vested interest in this issue right now – especially given the number of astronauts who have sold checklists.

But where does it stop? How about cue cards? Maps? Star charts? I put those in the same class as checklists. It gets ugly, fast. And that line for getting money back will get long, indeed.

And what happens to the checklist items that they have personally donated to museums, or foundations (like the ASF)? What happens to the tax deductions on those? Or the organizations when collectors ask for their money back? I hope the astronauts (note I say astronauts, and not just Lovell) can work this out with NASA. They all have a stake in this.

(The amount of checklists being sold, for decades, going back to the Odyssey auctions and before, really questions NASA's motives at this time. Odd that Lovell provided written testimony in May against the current NASA budget in Congress, and now Lovell's sale of an item just six months later – an item type with a prolonged history of sale for many, many years – is suddenly questioned. The timing is very odd.)

Leon Ford
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posted 01-05-2012 06:53 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Leon Ford   Click Here to Email Leon Ford     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It is strange that Buzz Aldrin is very pro what the current administration is doing and he has not been asked about his flown flight plan pages. It would seem that a flown flight plan from the first landing of a man on the Moon would be of historic value. Why don't they go after Buzz? Or will they? The line will be long for those refunds...

Rob Sumowski
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posted 01-05-2012 07:19 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rob Sumowski   Click Here to Email Rob Sumowski     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Charlie Bolden surely must have more important things than this to tend to... How about he begin with the restoration of some form of American human space flight?

Rich and Leon (and others here) are right on the mark. If one opens this can of worms where will it end? I have just a few flown items – mainly kapton in lucites – but my signed beta cloth patches quite likely also originated with taxpayers' dollars. Are they going to come after me, too?

Come on, Administrator Bolden, you've been to some of the ASF auctions where these things were sold, and you drank beer with us. You then applauded along with everyone else in the room when some of these same items brought top dollar for the ASF. You're a reasonable guy, no? I think you'd agree we collectors stand at the front of the line in our vocal support of human space flight. How about you fix this problem and let's get on with human space flight?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-05-2012 07:33 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by rjurek349:
The timing is very odd.
The only thing odd about the timing is that the GC contacted Heritage after the auction.

Lovell didn't testify before Congress; he signed a letter but only Armstrong and Cernan came before the Senate and House committees.

Schweickart signed a similar letter in favor of the current administration's space policy and yet is in the same situation as Lovell.

(Aldrin didn't have any items consigned to the Nov. 30 Heritage auction.)

I don't think it helps anyone — including collectors and the astronauts — to start tossing around theories based on little more than innuendo. Let's stick to the facts.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-05-2012 07:44 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Less anyone think I am in favor of NASA's actions in this case, I am not.

I think the General Counsel's actions in this regard are without any consideration for the precedent already set, and worse, demonstrate a serious lack of knowledge about the history of the agency it serves.

I think they acted without conducting any significant due diligence, unaware of the documentation that exists in NASA's own archives, and without any consideration for the consequences of their actions.

I'm hoping, if there is a silver lining to all of this all, it is that it results in others at NASA realizing that this must be better handled moving forward. The haphazard manner in which they have acted does not serve NASA well.

Personally, I think NASA does have a responsibility to look after the disposition of its artifacts — even 40 years later — but it must do so with a better understanding of the history those artifacts represent and with a much better consideration for the larger picture.

fredtrav
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posted 01-05-2012 07:59 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for fredtrav   Click Here to Email fredtrav     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think it is partly a case of some people "justifying" their jobs. At a time when NASA and its contractors have been laying off thousands, the attorneys in the GC ond IG offices might feel they will be next unless they do something.

jimsz
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posted 01-05-2012 08:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for jimsz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
However, it cannot be the only standard. NASA only questioned four lots, among them two of Rusty Schweickart's flown artifacts. But Schweickart sold more than those two items.
It was only four lots this time.

It was only one lot last time.

These are test balloons.

If I were a collector who publicly purchased a high ticket item through an auction or other listing I would be greatly concerned.

These are test balloons.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-05-2012 08:44 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by jimsz:
These are test balloons.
Prove it.

Because if these are test balloons, then NASA been flying balloons for decades. Here's a balloon from August 2000.

(Incidentally, in that case, NASA's "balloon" popped. The winning bidder got to keep the artifact as title was established.)

As much I want NASA to know its own history, collectors need to know their history before making claims, too.

rjurek349
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posted 01-05-2012 10:20 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for rjurek349   Click Here to Email rjurek349     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Prove it. Interesting: that is what the Orlando Sentinel is quoting NASA as saying the astronauts will have to do. Prove it. If not, NASA wants the stuff back.

So if an astronaut has or is selling anything not in the PPK, they are going to have to provide a receipt or proof of title? Wow. The refund lines are going to be long, indeed.

Leon Ford
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posted 01-05-2012 10:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Leon Ford   Click Here to Email Leon Ford     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I don't understand how NASA says, "We will go after this checklist, flight plan or camera and not that one". It seems it must/should be an all or nothing deal.

drifting to the right
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posted 01-05-2012 10:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for drifting to the right     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Not only are flown items of concern, but also training artifacts, i.e. Shepard's Apollo 14 gloves.

rjurek349
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posted 01-05-2012 10:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for rjurek349   Click Here to Email rjurek349     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
How is Schweickart going to provide "proof of title" on the ID plate -- when it was a gift to him by the contractor? Seriously.I don't think they were giving out gift receipts at the time. This is nuts.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-06-2012 02:31 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by rjurek349:
How is Schweickart going to provide "proof of title" on the ID plate -- when it was a gift to him by the contractor?
According to Chris Spain's Space Flown Aritfacts' website:
These three plates were stowed in the PPKs or Official Flight Kit at launch, although whether this was in the Command Module or Lunar Module is not entirely certain.
So, if the plate was in Schweickart's PPK, then he would only need to present his PPK manifest. Recall that due to the Astronaut Office policy, NASA does not have copies of the PPK manifests; the astronauts retain the only copies.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-06-2012 02:57 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by drifting to the right:
Not only are flown items of concern, but also training artifacts, i.e. Shepard's Apollo 14 gloves.
According to Heritage's description:
This glove was given to a NASA insider many years ago by Shepard and handed down in his family.
Do we know of another example of an astronaut keeping his training gloves, such that he could give one away?

leslie
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posted 01-06-2012 03:42 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for leslie   Click Here to Email leslie     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This entire scenario is odd in the extreme. It appears that NASA is cherry picking as surely they have been aware since 1968 flown items have been sold off by astronauts and NASA employees.

However, this selling off accelerated latterly when the auction houses visited the guys resulting in "collection" sell offs, for example a Lovell sell off, a Young sell off, a Cernan sell off.

In the Heritage 2009 auction, good examples are items from the "Ron Evans collection" ...camera sun filters, flown Apollo 17 America scissors, etc., flashlight batteries, Jim Lovell's GT-12 Prime Log checklist, Lovell's Apollo 8 flown CMP checklist, Apollo 13 CM flown identification plate, John Young's Apollo 16 flown flashlight, screwdrivers, spoons etc., all these items read "have been part of my personal collection since the mission."

Repeat, "part of my personal collection since the mission."

Another example, Apollo 10 CM flown rotational control handle "from the personal collection of Gene Cernan removed from the Apollo 10 CM "Charlie Brown" following its historic trip to the Moon."

Always, "from my personal collection."

Forgive my naivety but I assume the astronauts did not personally go to the hangar and remove these items... somebody presented it them him and obviously with NASA's knowledge?

Buzz Aldrin's letters of authentication mostly end with... "has been in my personal collection since 1969." Buzz's items have made many tens of thousands of dollars. Will NASA try to reclaim these items? Are they now suggesting any item sold was not the property of an astronaut?

They must be, therefore why wait until now, why wait until hundreds of thousands of dollars have been passed from us the collectors to the astronauts? It just makes no sense to me.

My point is very simple. These catalogues prove a vast inventory of flown personal mementos, craft parts, implements, tools, checklists, watches, maps, charts, etc., have been sold off by the astronauts. Who were we, the willing purchasers, to question the ownership when they came with a signed paper stating "from my personal collection"?

In simple terms, are collectors around the world in possession of, by definition, illegally obtained property? If NASA is now saying the astronauts have no right to sell it, they are questioning the right of ownership. Therefore, will they be reclaiming all items listed in the many auction catalogues? Will men in suits are dark glasses be knocking on my door?

The basic question to NASA is, why now? Why not ten years ago? Why allow the guys to part with all this stuff?

I have purchased a considerable amount of items over the years, all with certification from the guys. If it is now a case that ownership was in doubt, I will be asking for my money back.

It is time that this problem be dealt with now! How can Bolden sit in an ivory tower and make no statement? He has sat at a table and sold his signature along with others. Surely there should be a band of brothers who can get together and eradicate this issue once and for all.

To my knowledge, most living Apollo astronauts (not to mention shuttle crew members) have profited by selling off personal mementos given to them or collected during their time at NASA. Surely they can speak as one voice to claim rightful ownership. Maybe then Charlie Bolden will climb out of his ivory tower to lead the way.

Come on guys, please! The silence is deafening!

Tykeanaut
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posted 01-06-2012 04:20 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tykeanaut   Click Here to Email Tykeanaut     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA is "shutting the stable door now the horse has bolted." It is too late and up to NASA to prove ownership, not the astronauts.

chet
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posted 01-06-2012 04:51 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for chet   Click Here to Email chet     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
As alluded to by Leon and Leslie, by haphazardly applying its own rules (allowing the auctioning of certain items while challenging or disallowing others, even though it demonstrably had, and continues to have, access to full knowledge of prominent sale times and venues) NASA seems clearly to be repeatedly violating the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection clause, and doing so with impunity because it has been, as yet, not seriously challenged in its actions.

Such basic offenses (against the Constitution, and normal sensibilities) are all the more egregious when one realizes they could ONLY have life at all because of NASA's own failures (to properly maintain or access documentation of its own procurement and disposition practices over the last 50 years).

This most recent "questioning" of title to spacefaring artifacts isn't NASA doing its duty... it's NASA in full "CYA" mode, despicably trying to mask its own failures by browbeating some of those responsible for its greatest successes.

freshspot
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posted 01-06-2012 04:54 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for freshspot   Click Here to Email freshspot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Just posted online is this story from the Associated Press legal affairs writer (and taken from the Chicago Tribune).
NASA is questioning whether Apollo 13 commander James Lovell has the right to sell a 70-page checklist from the flight that includes his handwritten calculations crucial in guiding the damaged spacecraft back to Earth.
Dave Scott (not the astronaut)
apolloartifacts.com

freshspot
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posted 01-06-2012 05:16 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for freshspot   Click Here to Email freshspot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
One other interesting angle.

I note that the estate of Deke Slayton - who of course served as NASA's director of flight crew operations from November 1963 until March 1972 (making him the astronaut's boss during the Apollo period) - has been selling artifacts such as the ones in question for many years.

Most recently, the Slayton estate sold items (including some flown) at the December 2011 Goldberg auction, which was after the Heritage auction where the Apollo 13 checklist and Apollo 9 items were sold.

It would seem to me that if the boss was keeping stuff, that he was letting his guys keep stuff.

Imagine Lovell going to Slayton and saying "thanks for letting me keep the checklist Deke. Can I have a receipt?"

space1
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posted 01-06-2012 05:19 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for space1   Click Here to Email space1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The tone of that email from NASA Deputy Chief Counsel Donna M. Shafer is chilling. This has to be resolved quickly at the top levels of the agency.

Either that or we can have a line forming with all of the astronauts turning in their flown flight documents... starting with Bolden.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-06-2012 05:33 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I was just interviewed about this for CBS News Radio. I was asked how I thought this particular case would end up, and while mentioning that there was paperwork for at least some of the items that should help clear title, I used the opportunity to raise the concern already expressed here about the many checklists and checklist pages that have sold previously.

The 10-minute or so interview will no doubt be cut into a much shorter segment, so I don't know if they'll choose to use that reply or other excerpts from my comments, but between the AP, Orlando Sentinel and now CBS coverage (not to mention our own, which also appears on Yahoo! News, MSNBC, SPACE.com, Space News and elsewhere), NASA will need to start considering these issues, if it isn't already.

jimsz
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posted 01-06-2012 06:04 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for jimsz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
Prove it.
It always begins with small things. First one, then four.

Collectors of high end items need to beware. If NASA prevails it will limit their resale opportunities if not eliminate them.

NASA is not in a good position with this. They may gain some valuable relics to be put in a museum or backroom somewhere but they will lose on the PR side.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-06-2012 06:13 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by jimsz:
It always begins with small things. First one, then four.
But this isn't the first, or fourth, or even tenth item NASA has questioned or challenged. This has been going on for more than a decade, if not decades.

To suggest these are test balloons implies that NASA has a strategy in the way they are approaching these sales, when based on their own statements and actions, it appears to be much more haphazard — reactive and opportunistic rather than proactive and well planned.

jimsz
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posted 01-06-2012 06:16 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for jimsz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Time will tell. If NASA succeeds and obtains these items it will be open season not only on what former astronauts own but on what collectors have accumulated as well.

NASA loses in the long run as well as collectors. This has most likely affected future auctions.

jimsz
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posted 01-06-2012 06:19 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for jimsz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by space1:
Either that or we can have a line forming with all of the astronauts turning in their flown flight documents... starting with Bolden.
I don't think the flight pages from any of Bolden's flights would bring hundreds, let alone thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

NASA did not take notice until the money because serious.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-06-2012 06:25 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
After the loss of Challenger (if not earlier), NASA enforced a policy that astronauts could not retain their checklists. With the possible exception of STS-61C, Bolden — nor any of the post-STS-51L crew members — own their flight documents.

SpaceAholic
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posted 01-06-2012 06:55 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
...it appears to be much more haphazard — reactive and opportunistic rather than proactive and well planned.
NASA's approach is arbitrary and capricious.

jimsz
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posted 01-06-2012 07:19 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for jimsz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
Bolden — nor any of the post-STS-51L crew members — own their flight documents.
That you are aware of.

Glint
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posted 01-06-2012 07:28 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glint   Click Here to Email Glint     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by freshspot:
Just posted online is this story from the Associated Press
Same story appeared in The Washington Post along with a graphic and an example of extremely poor journalistic editing:
"The list shows calculations made by Commander James Lovell that helped him and his crew navigate the damaged aircraft back to earth. ...The document was sold at auction in November for $388.00."
An intriguing reference to that lunar "aircraft" and a sale price that seems low.

ejectr
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posted 01-06-2012 07:38 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for ejectr   Click Here to Email ejectr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If NASA is so concerned about people making money off of what they consider theirs, why don't they have the astronauts pay them back what the item cost them out of the proceeds of the sale? The paper this checklist was printed on had to cost at least a buck back then.

That's how ridiculous this is. There are nuts, bolts, screws, dimes, dollars, foil ad infinitum that is worth more now than then. Do they expect to have it all or do they just want to target the four, five and six figure items.

About time they put their efforts into doing what they are supposed to do and that is space travel... not some "witch hunt" as Frank Borman once said.


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