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  181099558902: Spaceflori Apollo 11 dust display

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Author Topic:   181099558902: Spaceflori Apollo 11 dust display
Spoon
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posted 03-16-2013 07:42 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Spoon     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Interesting to see one of Spaceflori's Apollo 11 dust presentations for grabs after the kerfuffle a couple of years ago.

yeknom-ecaps
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posted 03-17-2013 09:38 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for yeknom-ecaps   Click Here to Email yeknom-ecaps     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
What was the kerfuffle? I just don't remember it.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 03-17-2013 09:50 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
See: Spaceflori moon dust declared stolen from NASA

yeknom-ecaps
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posted 03-17-2013 10:45 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for yeknom-ecaps   Click Here to Email yeknom-ecaps     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks Robert! Interesting re-read for me .... I had completely forgotten about it.

woodg2
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posted 03-17-2013 02:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for woodg2   Click Here to Email woodg2     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
What finally came of that issue? I remember when it all hit the press, but really haven't heard anything since.

Did it all blow over or is everybody just keeping quiet if they happen to have one of these displays?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 03-17-2013 02:55 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There really wasn't anything to come from that case, as it was never more than someone complying with the government's request to voluntarily turn over the dust. There was no court case, no legal ruling, and therefore no precedent set.

The government's position on this has been consistent: the lunar material that was returned from the moon by the Apollo missions is a national treasure. No employee, Terry Slezak included, was ever authorized to remove lunar material and save it for themselves or gift it to others.

The recent law passed by Congress awarding Apollo astronauts with their mission-saved mementos also specifically excluded lunar material.

The only exception has been lunar dust-stained equipment that was transferred to the astronauts, either at the time of the missions (like the patches off their suits) or through the recently passed legislation, or otherwise on the equipment that passed through the normal government surplus process.

Gonzo
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posted 03-17-2013 09:23 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Gonzo   Click Here to Email Gonzo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I did not know of the "kerfuffel" over the moon dust from the noted thread. So I read the entire thread. Interesting case and something I can comment on, having worked for the government in various capacities for over 30 years (retired military and government contractor). So this is my opinion, but based on actual experience. I'm only making this post now, after reading the thread, in hopes that Florian would (hopefully) do the right thing.

First off, when you work for the government it is made very clear that nothing you touch that is government property is to be removed, regardless of government intended (or believed) disposition of said material. Take for example you work on an item and in that process, you replace a screw. Knowing that the old screw is useless, you would place it in the trash, to be disposed of. You know for a fact that it will be disposed of. However, you find the screw, or the circumstances surrounding why it needs to be replaced interesting so you decide that you'll just keep it. Remember that you know for a fact that if placed in the trash it will be disposed of. By taking the screw instead, is this theft? Unquestionably, yes. It is US government property. It is up to the US government to dispose of it. Point being, just because you know that it is trash and that the government will dispose of it, does not give you the right to keep it. It is still US government trash! So therefore, you would be stealing trash from the government. Plain and simple.

In this case, Mr. Slezak would have had the same training and would have known beyond any question, that the moon dust he collected on the tape belonged to NASA. It would have been very clear in his mind that by taking it, it was indeed theft. For him to claim otherwise is simply ludicrous.

Nor can he claim that if they didn't have a record of it, they can't claim ownership of it either. Let's put it this way. Suppose you buy a piece of property. Someone walking down the road in front of your property notices something in the dirt. They reach down and pick it up. It turns out to be, let's say a Civil War artifact. Do they have the right to keep and sell it because you didn't know it was on your property? Or is it yours, taken illegally, from your property? Again, the point is, just because NASA didn't know they had the dust from Magazine "S", doesn't mean they don't own it. So again, Mr. Slezak stole the dust.

And none of this even addresses the fact that he intentionally took it. He knew what he was doing. He made the specific effort to get a piece of tape, collect the dust with it, and then put it in his pocket (or some other conveyance), with the specific intent to remove it from NASA custody.

As far as the point of the IG "wasting taxpayer's money" goes, it is arbitrary and pointless. The IG's exist specifically for this type of action. If not doing something like this, they would still exist and still be getting paid their salaries, their offices and their staff and budgets. So actually, them pursuing this is making good use of taxpayer's money because they aren't sitting in their offices doing nothing. That would be the waste. What I'm saying is that the taxpayer's money is already being spent. Having them doing something for it is a good use, not a waste of it. Could they be doing something more useful? Who's to say? Try to make that claim and it is admittedly, conjecture on your part.

Now my intent of this post. I can only hope, in the light of the action that created this chain of incidents, that the dust was indeed stolen, that Florian, being a responsible citizen of the US, would pull the item from auction and return the stolen material to NASA, it's rightful owner. Regardless of lack of prosecution in the past, simply put, the dust still belongs to NASA and should be returned back to their care. As already agreed, it is a national treasure and should remain in their custody.

SpaceAholic
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posted 03-17-2013 09:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Gonzo:
In this case, Mr. Slezak would have had the same training...
Annual ethics training was not prescribed for federal employees until the late 80's.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 03-17-2013 09:49 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 Gonzo:
...that Florian, being a responsible citizen of the US, would pull the item from auction and return the stolen material to NASA, it's rightful owner.
  1. Florian is not a U.S. citizen; he is a citizen of Germany; and
  2. the auction in question is (or was, as it is now over) not Florian's.
Florian bought the Slezak presentation from Superior Galleries in 2001; he then offered segments of dust-stained tape from that presentation for sale in that same year. The presentations sold out years ago. Any display for sale today is on the secondary market.

chet
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posted 03-18-2013 01:16 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for chet   Click Here to Email chet     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Just a few quick points in response to some made by Gonzo:

First, if you read the original thread on this subject I don't see why you would still claim Mr. Slezak stole the dust, when it was pointed out in the previous thread Mr. Slezak's actions did not fall under the legal definition of theft; someone can take something that is not rightfully theirs without it constituting theft.

Second, to state that it is definitively not a waste of taxpayers' money in any instance where workers being paid to do a particular job are doing that job, is a misnomer. If workers are hired to break windows and then replace the windows they broke, they may be doing what they were hired to do, but it would be hard to state (with a straight face, anyway) such employees weren't wasting taxpayer money. I am not saying government employees in the NASA OIG are the equivalent of workers hired to break, and then repair, windows. But when such employees trumpet their retrieval of a few specks of moondust as though they had cracked and resolved a crime mystery of no small significance, I'd say such employees' actions could be construed as a wasteful use of their time, and thus taxpayer resources (and if that's all the personnel involved in that incident had to do that particular week or month, maybe there should be some budget cutbacks in hires in the OIG.)

Third, while your point is well taken that any property not yet fully surrendered by an individual or entity still belongs to that individual or entity (until actually surrendered, even if such surrender is imminent), it's otherwise quite a stretch to state someone committed an act of premeditated thievery just by taking something they believed would have been imminently surrendered or similarly disposed of.

I doubt anyone here at collectSPACE would've been rankled two years ago had the retrieval of the "Slezak dust" been handled in a way differently than it was by the federal agents involved. I believe some Apollo astronauts were likewise upset not too long after the Slezak dust-up (pun semi-intended), when NASA officials started going after some astronauts' rights of ownership of mission mementos in a similar fashion, i.e., casting aspersions and using overbearing tactics when none were merited.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 03-18-2013 02:46 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 chet:
But when such employees trumpet their retrieval of a few specks of moondust as though they had cracked and resolved a crime mystery of no small significance...
Consider the source of the announcement though — it wasn't the OIG, it was the U.S. Attorney's Office for Eastern Missouri. How many moon rock-related cases do you think they see in a year? In a decade?

An unusual case fell on their desk and they ran with it. Was it the best use of their time? Probably not, especially given that the display was voluntarily surrendered rather than challenged in court. But is it understandable from their perspective why it was treated the way it was? Sure...

chet
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posted 03-18-2013 03:15 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for chet   Click Here to Email chet     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
But is it understandable from their perspective why it was treated the way they did? Sure...
Aside from the Inspector Clouseau-like terminology used in their press-release, Mr. Slezak was repeatedly defamed by lawyers in the St. Louis US Attorneys Office when they used words like "stole" and "smuggled" to describe his actions 40+ years ago. It's not just that they should have known better, Robert... they did know better, but used such pejorative language anyway; more contemptible than "understandable", in my opinion.

hinkler
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posted 03-18-2013 03:32 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for hinkler   Click Here to Email hinkler     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Perhaps a silly question but what would have happened to the moondust on Slezak's hands if he had not used tape to remove it? Would he have washed his hands and it would have been lost for ever? What was the correct procedure to have been followed? Assuming of course there was one.

Can NASA really account for every particle of dust bought back from the moon?

Seems as stupid as going after astronauts who bought items back from the moon that were going to be left there. Are we going to begrudge astronauts keeping memorabilia?

Gonzo
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posted 03-18-2013 05:42 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Gonzo   Click Here to Email Gonzo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by SpaceAholic:
Annual ethics training was not prescribed for federal employees until the late 80's.
Agreed. Annual ethics did not start until later. However, I started in the military in the mid-70's. We had training then that was supposed to teach the same things; Government property belongs to the government, including items they dispose of. You knew that even trash was the government's trash.

And as far as Mr. Slezak taking the dust, it was theft. He would have known (or should have) that to deliberately use a piece of tape to collect and then remove it was wrong. Regardless of what he thought NASA might do with it. So yes, he knew what he was doing. Would it have washed down the drain? Maybe. But it was their dust to wash down the drain, not his. If that is what they thought should be done with it, that is their choice.

As far as harm goes, I agree that this small amount may not have harmed NASA (I am not, nor have I been in a position at NASA to be able to decide that myself), but again, it is still theirs to dispose of in any fashion they choose.

Regardless if Florian is a US citizen or not and regardless of the harm he may experience, the fact is, stolen or not, it was wrongfully obtained and the dust still belongs to NASA, they have not relinquished ownership. It should be returned.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 03-18-2013 07:49 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 hinkler:
Can NASA really account for every particle of dust bought back from the moon?
The inventory and cataloging methods employed by the Lunar Receiving Lab (LRL) were set up to do just that. Any time a moon rock was sliced, even the dust created in the process was re-indexed as a derivative sample. Nothing was ever tossed away.

Samples loaned to scientists, even those for destructive testing, must account for the disposition of all material and return all that remains.

The LRL has a separate vault for holding exposed samples that are no longer scientifically pristine. Other tape lifted samples are held in this area.

quote:
Seems as stupid as going after astronauts who brought items back from the moon that were going to be left there.
Until the passage last year of new legislation, the legal standing of the memorabilia kept as mementos by astronauts in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs was at best not clearly defined. That is no longer the case.

MCroft04
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posted 03-18-2013 08:35 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for MCroft04   Click Here to Email MCroft04     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Anyone who has ever cut up rocks knows how messy it is. I can't recall if they use a wet or dry saw; either way collecting all the residue would seem almost impossible.

It's very easy for me to believe that more than one person over the years scraped a bit of dust off the saw and took it home (although I have no evidence of it occurring). I'm one of the most honest people you're going to find, but I admit the temptation would be very great!

If anyone has access to the procedures, I'm interested in reading how NASA ensures that they retain every speck of dust.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 03-18-2013 08:52 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From the Lunar Sample Facility Tour:
Special bandsaws have been developed for doing this kind of work. To protect the rocks from contamination and reaction with air, the saws are enclosed in a nitrogen cabinet. The rock is clamped to a sliding table and advanced into a stainless steel blade which has diamonds in the cutting edge. Since the lubricants and cooling liquids normally used in sawing rocks would badly contaminate the lunar samples, the sawing is done dry and very slowly to prevent overheating.
And with regards to accounting:
All sample processing is carefully documented in folders called data packs. Pieces which have been removed from the original sample are assigned new sample numbers, and the masses for all samples are accounted for to the nearest 10 milligrams.

MCroft04
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posted 03-18-2013 10:14 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for MCroft04   Click Here to Email MCroft04     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks Robert. The dry saw makes sense. So to avoid contamination (from other rock samples), the saw would need to be thoroughly cleaned after each sample was cut.

These procedures look good on paper, but would take considerable time and effort to clean (the closed nitrogen cabinet) every speck of dust from the cutting process. Keep in mind that these rocks are hard and often brittle, so fragments and dust would probably be spread everywhere inside the enclosed nitrogen cabinet, although this would be mitigated by sawing slowly as indicated.

In spite of the procedures, cleaning the saw and cabinet would present opportunity for a worker to abscond with a small amount of lunar material. Would be very tempting! And no I wouldn't take any.

Perhaps someone at NASA can invite me down to observe the cutting process?

chet
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posted 03-18-2013 07:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for chet   Click Here to Email chet     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by hinkler:
Can NASA really account for every particle of dust brought back from the moon?

quote:
Originally replied by Robert Pearlman:
The inventory and cataloging methods employed by the Lunar Receiving Lab (LRL) were set up to do just that. Any time a moon rock was sliced, even the dust created in the process was re-indexed as a derivative sample. Nothing was ever tossed away.
The answer provided to hinkler's question is incomplete, as clearly not every particle of dust brought back from the moon made it over to the LRL.

A more pertinent question however, may be: were there clear NASA procedures for what was to be done with any lunar samples, including dust particles, that due to unanticipated circumstances weren't able to be properly conveyed to the LRL (such as particular lunar matter that spilled from camera magazines or collected in suit seams and/or equipment crevices).

Robert Pearlman
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posted 03-18-2013 08:33 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 chet:
...as clearly not every particle of dust brought back from the moon made it over to the LRL.
If by that, you are referring to Slezak's experience, you would be incorrect. Slezak was processing the film canisters inside the LRL, and removed the tape sample from the LRL.

Remember, even if it were not for a desire to keep the lunar samples pristine, for Apollo 11 (and Apollos 12 and 14), the crew and everything that went to the surface of the moon was quarantined and transported to the LRL out of concern for lunar biologicals.

Slezak confirms this in his NASA oral history:

When the flight film came, we, in quarantine, were looking out the back door of the LRL. They came with these big gray boxes. The rock boxes and the film boxes all looked the same. Everybody and his brother had to have pictures taken of them holding the rock box, even if they had nothing to do with it. And we were all in the LRL waiting to get started on all these things that we had to work on.

...This we were doing through the biological barrier. And when I came to Magazine S, I opened the Beta Cloth belt, and in there was a note from Buzz Aldrin. He said, "This is the magazine that Neil [A. Armstrong] had dropped on the surface, but this was the most important magazine." When I pulled it out it was all covered in this black material --looked like lampblack almost--it was really dark black with little bright speckly things, which turned out to be little bits of glass from the lunar surface. So everybody said, "What is that?" I said, "It's Moon dust. That's the only place it's been." So they had to shoot a picture of me with the Moon dust on my hand. Then according to protocol, the other people in the room had to leave and I had to strip off my clothing and clean off all of the work surfaces with Clorox bleach, then go to the showers.

Slezak was the photographer assigned in the crew reception area of the Lunar Receiving Laboratory for the Apollo landing missions. He was schooled ("I had to go to school under North American [Rockwell Corporation] to learn how to use all the ground support equipment") in the procedures to download and sterilize the mission films and decontaminate the command module. He wasn't a stranger to the LRL's rules nor was he unaware of the handling of lunar material.

chet
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posted 03-18-2013 08:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for chet   Click Here to Email chet     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I was not referring specifically to the Slezak incident, but to how any remnant dust (i.e. non-inventoried dust brought back during Apollo missions) was supposed to be handled according to NASA procedures (if there indeed were any.)

Gonzo
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posted 03-19-2013 07:19 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Gonzo   Click Here to Email Gonzo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Chet, sorry, but again, I have to side with Robert.

You have to remember that there were entire teams of engineers specifically assigned to think situations like this through. Whether there were procedures in place at the time I can't say for sure. I wasn't there. But indications are, there would have been. Slezak himself describes the training he received (thanks Robert for the reference).

But that is a moot point in this case. The fact remains that there was a policy, and for good reason, that any lunar debris brought back, whether intentionally or not, belonged to the US government (and by extension, NASA as the handling body).

So whether there was a policy on how to handle it in such circumstances is irrelevant. It still belongs to NASA. Every last grain.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 03-19-2013 07:29 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 Gonzo:
Every last grain.
Just to be clear, not every grain of moon dust returned to Earth by Apollo is government property today.

As earlier mentioned, astronauts were gifted with lunar-dust stained equipment, and in rare instances, dust-stained hardware was deaccessed through the federal surplus chains (or other, documented means) such that NASA, perhaps inadvertently, released the material from its property.

Had Slezak discarded the tape (assuming such would have been discarded, instead of held in the returned samples vault) and later found said tape in a garbage dump or other such junk yard, he would have been free to keep it.

It all comes down to letting the government proceed through its own disposition process(es), such that it can be documented that the material is no longer federal property.

chet
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posted 03-19-2013 01:44 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for chet   Click Here to Email chet     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'm not disputing that any lunar material is U.S. government property (with Robert's explained exceptions noted). I'm only arguing about how those who misappropriated such property should be viewed; as criminals or innocuously innocent (interim) caretakers. I frankly don't understand the intent focus on them only as the former.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 03-19-2013 02:11 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think you need to put yourself in the position of a typical person, let alone a space program worker, at the time of the Apollo moon landings.

Everybody wanted a piece of the moon. NASA was being inundated with letters from people of all ages, from children to senior citizens, and from countries around the world, asking for a moon rock or moon dust. And that was even before the first samples were returned to Earth.

The astronauts themselves wanted to keep a moon rock, pebble or some other sample of lunar material and even they were told no. The President of the United States wasn't gifted one — his moon rock was on loan.

So to suggest that anyone working at NASA — especially someone in a position of some responsibility inside the very building that was specifically built to protect and preserve lunar material — could be under the false pretense that they could just take moon dust home when all the rest of the world was being told no, is simply not credible. Even if they weren't aware of the demand at first, surely by the time of a sale in 2001, such an individual would recognize the issue (and to that end, the initial advertisement for Slezak's presentation said the moon dust was presented to him, rather, as he later admitted in an interview, was something he took separately and added to the display he was gifted).

Had Slezak been gifted the moon dust as was initially advertised, I would say the situation was one of ambiguity (much like the astronauts' mementos prior to the recent legislation) but when he revealed that he took it upon himself to remove the moon dust from the lab, that changed my opinion of the entire ordeal.

chet
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posted 03-19-2013 05:38 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for chet   Click Here to Email chet     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That's all well and good, but one could tell a similarly convincing narrative about Ed Mitchell knowing he shouldn't have kept the DA Camera, and even about Jim Lovell knowing he should've returned to NASA the historic checklist that was recently auctioned for a six-figure sum. NASA went after them with a determination never even considered for Slezak. Unfortunately for Mitchell, not enough people came to their senses in time for him to be awarded the DAC he was forced to surrender; luckily Lovell was able to go ahead with the sale of HIS checklist.

Treating or thinking of these dedicated individuals as common criminals with nefarious intentions is simply misguided in my opinion, so I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree about their culpability.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 03-19-2013 06:20 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The astronauts' case and Slezak's are meaningfully different in their circumstances. The issue with the astronauts' mementos was a question of establishing title, whereas there is no question that title was never granted for any Apollo-recovered lunar sample.

If you are looking for a more recent comparison to the Slezak case, I would suggest David Abbey, who removed government property (space shuttle tiles) from work.

Greggy_D
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posted 03-19-2013 07:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Greggy_D   Click Here to Email Greggy_D     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
So to suggest that anyone working at NASA — especially someone in a position of some responsibility inside the very building that was specifically built to protect and preserve lunar material — could be under the false pretense that they could just take moon dust home when all the rest of the world was being told no, is simply not credible.
Well, look at Slezak's point of view. After contact with lunar dust he was told to strip down naked and jump in the shower, all the while watching the same lunar dust go right down the shower drain. No wonder he saved a different specimen of dust on tape. He probably figured that other dust might have met the same shower drain he encountered earlier.

chet
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posted 03-19-2013 08:21 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for chet   Click Here to Email chet     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Not only is Greggy_D likely correct in his assumption of Slezak's state of mind (when he took the dust encrusted tape), there are other mitigating points as well. The clamoring for a "piece" of the moon was most likely that...I'm sure people were interested in a tiny pebble, or a small rock; how many folks had visions of dust encrusted bits of tape dancing in their heads?

I'm well aware of the faults in the analogies I made in my previous post, but the significance of the differences between the Slezak case and those of Mitchell and Lovell fades, in my estimation, when compared with the similarities. My point was that I believe all three considered their actions to be innoccuous; NASA clearly viewed things differently. I'm happy the over-zealousness of some NASA officials was recognized as such, and slapped down - because what those officials were doing simply defied common sense about what seems proportional and fair. I don't see how any ongoing vilification of Slezak differs from that assessment.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 03-20-2013 12:45 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
David Abbey very likely knew that the space shuttle tiles he took home were destined to be destroyed and buried, as that was the normal disposition process for such things. He may have very well thought he was saving space history that otherwise would be lost.

That doesn't change that what he took wasn't his property.

Slezak helped lead the development and execution of some of the decontamination processes in the Lunar Receiving Lab. He wasn't a bystander; he knew the reason for the quarantine and the reason for the shower.

At the end of the day, someone can be guilty of theft without being a villain or evil. I have no doubt that Slezak, and to a lesser degree Abbey, didn't set out with the desire to rob the government. But that doesn't mean that they didn't know what they were doing was wrong.

Most everyone, at some point in their lives, does something they know they shouldn't be doing but do it anyway, whether it is hopping between movie theaters to catch a double feature for the price of one show, or taking home office supplies from work to help with your kid's science fair project, or calling in sick when you're really out on the golf course.

A kid caught shoplifting a pack of gum is stealing, but he's not a villain, nor is describing what he did as theft vilifying him.

I've never met Slezak, so I don't know his character. But I have a good deal of respect for what he did as part of his job at NASA. I can completely understand why he took the dust-stained tape, and in his same position, I might have done the exact same thing. But that doesn't make what he did right, nor does it negate his actions as having stolen from his workplace.

chet
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From: Beverly Hills, Calif.
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posted 03-20-2013 03:25 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for chet   Click Here to Email chet     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I never wrote, or even implied, that Slezak took something that was his property, or his to take at all. Nor did I ever write or imply he was right to do so.

Slezak was quarantined along with the Apollo 11 crew, and didn't break quarantine, with or without his dust-tape (to the best of my understanding).

Nothing in the Slezak story evidences that he knew, or thought, his actions were wrong; simply repeating it doesn't make it so. If one acknowledges that, one must also acknowledge he shouldn't be referred to as a thief, since application of that term would then be factually incorrect. Yet the St. Louis U.S. Attorneys Office, and at least one reader here, referred to Mr. Slezak as such. That is slander.

There is a difference (as the law recognizes) between taking (removing for one's own purpose something that isn't expressly one's own property), and stealing (wrongfully taking something that expressly is someone else's property); that alone is my basis for bristling at any references to Mr. Slezak's actions, more than forty years ago, as thievery.

SpaceAholic
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From: Sierra Vista, Arizona
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 03-20-2013 05:40 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Federal statute:
Title 18 - CRIMES AND CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
CHAPTER 31 - EMBEZZLEMENT AND THEFT
§641. Public money, property or records

Whoever embezzles, steals, purloins, or knowingly converts to his use or the use of another, or without authority, sells, conveys or disposes of any record, voucher, money, or thing of value of the United States or of any department or agency thereof, or any property made or being made under contract for the United States or any department or agency thereof; or

Whoever receives, conceals, or retains the same with intent to convert it to his use or gain, knowing it to have been embezzled, stolen, purloined or converted—

Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; but if the value of such property in the aggregate, combining amounts from all the counts for which the defendant is convicted in a single case, does not exceed the sum of $1,000, he shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

The word "value" means face, par, or market value, or cost price, either wholesale or retail, whichever is greater.

Gonzo
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From: Lansing, MI, USA
Registered: Mar 2012

posted 03-20-2013 08:25 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Gonzo   Click Here to Email Gonzo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think between the definition that was just posted and the actions taken, along with the evidence of what he knew at the time, I think the answer is pretty clear.

Sorry to be a thorn in your side Chet, but I still agree with Robert. Sometimes the truth has to hurt. What he did was wrong. He knew what he was doing. In fact, I'd venture to say that because of his position he was even in a UNIQUE position to judge his own actions. And what's worse, he then decided to do it anyway, knowing those facts. If we claim he didn't know better, that would imply he was extremely incompetent in his position. And considering the importance of his position and what he did for the handling of the lunar material, that would not have been the case. Justify it as you will. It was still wrong. It was still theft. And yes, he knew it.

As far as value goes, that is disputable. On one side of the coin, it was just dust and has no (clear) scientific or educational value (beyond the litigation aspect). On the other hand, all lunar material has been declared a national treasure. I can't say which side of the coin I'd choose.

However, in the end, the facts stand for themselves and personally, I don't understand why people are defending him at this point. It seems pretty clear to me. Flame me if you will. As I am not in the legal business, these are just my opinions. (Something we are all giving at this point as none of us are legally representing him, as far as has been noted thus far.)

chet
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Posts: 1333
From: Beverly Hills, Calif.
Registered: Nov 2000

posted 03-20-2013 05:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for chet   Click Here to Email chet     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
As Rodney Dangerfield would say..."Rough crowd, rough crowd!"

Well, if the statement put out by the St. Louis U.S. Attorneys Office about their recovery of lunar material seems not the least bit hyperbolic to you, Gonzo and Robert, what can I say? I have to assume then, you must also agree that NASA made the right call in its prosecution of Ed Mitchell for the DAC, and that Congress made the wrong call by enacting legislation that (had it been passed in time) would've allowed him to keep it.

I'm a little stunned.

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 29230
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 03-20-2013 06:36 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
You are suggesting a set of conditions that are not mutually exclusive. One can hold that Slezak did something wrong, even knowingly, while at the same time be critical of the response to that action.

And with regards to the astronauts, that Congress needed to pass legislation served to emphasize that sufficient documentation and/or other law did not exist to establish the astronauts clearly held title over their mementos.

So to outline:

  • I feel what Slezak did was wrong, and believe he acted knowingly.
  • It is my opinion that the U.S. Attorney's office decision to issue a press release was both unnecessary and unwise.
  • I regretted that Ed Mitchell was put into the situation he was in...
  • ...but I also understand the government's perspective and why having to pursue the sale of possible government property could be necessary.
  • I was supportive of the passage of the legislation (but have reservations about the language of said law, and who and what it excludes).
None of those positions are at odds with each other.

chet
Member

Posts: 1333
From: Beverly Hills, Calif.
Registered: Nov 2000

posted 03-20-2013 06:55 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for chet   Click Here to Email chet     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thank you Robert, and so I would like to add where your positions and mine are also not (necessarily) at odds with each other:

I believe, in hindsight, that Slezak was wrong to remove the dust (unlike you however, I doubt he did so knowing it was a wrongful act). I also believe it's a waste of time to try to decide Slezak's state of mind at the time, since there's no way to prove what he did or didn't know, and so reckless for anyone to continue to refer to him as a thief.

I also understand why the government may have to pursue the sale of possible government properties in certain cases, but I don't believe the Mitchell, Lovell or Slezak dust cases fall in that category, and were foolishly pursued.

I too was supportive of the passage of the (astronaut protective) legislation, but have the same reservations about it that you do (I think)

YankeeClipper
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Posts: 267
From: Dublin, Ireland
Registered: Mar 2011

posted 03-20-2013 08:31 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for YankeeClipper   Click Here to Email YankeeClipper     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Having read again all the previous cS threads on the subject, it's worth considering the following when reviewing the past:
  1. The lunar dust from the magazine and on Slezak's hands was never intended to be a properly sampled/documented analytical sample. It was inadvertent contamination because of operator (Armstrong/Slezak) handling errors.

  2. The true scientific data samples were the properly recovered rocks/cores/soil in the locked boxes, the undeveloped film, surface experiment and telemetry data etc. NASA intended to obtain a lot more of these samples on subsequent scheduled missions.

  3. If NASA saw scientific merit in the magazine dust, did they insist on its careful recovery, documentation, and retention? If not, why not?

  4. The Apollo 17 goodwill gift lunar sample mass is 1142mg, LSLF mean research sample mass is <1000mg, Apollo 11 goodwill dust gift is 50mg, LSLF sample reconciliation is 10mg, estimated Slezak 1in tape-lift dust mass is 1-2mg.

  5. Is there scientific utility in the Slezak dust? Possibly as lunar fines for biological/microscopic/education purposes. However, the dust is contaminated from contact with skin/adhesive/poster board and has been improperly handled and secured. Professionally, the dust is a very poor sample and not worthy of serious consideration. Especially not when there are 842 pounds of research-grade potential samples.

  6. Similar lunar dust contamination was present on many flown surfaces e.g. garments/manuals/PPKs/personal items etc.

  7. Did Slezak inhale subvisible fine particulates when he opened the magazine? Quite possibly. Does NASA want them back too?
Was the dust NASA's? Yes. Could the curation of astromaterials been better in 1969? Arguably, yes. The LRL standards of 1969 are not those of the LSLF today.

Given the totality of the circumstances, the minute quantity involved, the likely fate of that lunar dust contamination, human perception and common sense, I would not be prosecuting Slezak for theft. This is not the Genesis Rock and there are far, far bigger thieves in the global financial system more worthy of prosecution for theft.

Personally, I wouldn't blow $1500 on these dust presentations. Why not save your money, brush up on your geology and go see some serious lunar rocks 100,000 times the mass of that dust in a museum? Or go buy a lunar meteorite with decent provenance?

Returning to the OP, nobody stopped the most recent eBay sale because to paraphrase that old law enforcement axiom:

"There's (almost) nothing to see here folks, now move along!"

All times are CT (US)

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