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  • For Apollo-era Astronauts, Future of Memorabilia a Matter of Integrity
    Posted by Mark Carreau 4:53 PM on Jan 10, 2012

    blog post photo
    Apollo 13 commander James Lovell, left, welcomed back back to Earth by President Nixon at Hickham AFB, Hawaii, on April 18, 1970.  Photo Credit: NASA

    Apollo astronauts James Lovell, Gene Cernan, Charles Duke and Rusty Schweickart flexed their "right stuff" after meeting with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on Monday in a bid to resolve a dispute over the private sale of NASA keepsakes and artifacts by the pioneers of early U. S. space exploration.

    The Washington session produced a pledge from Bolden to quickly resolve what he termed longstanding "fundamental misunderstandings and unclear policies" on the ownership of mementos from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Skylab programs -- some held by the former astronauts and others less visible for four and five decades.

    The issue boiled over in late 2011, when an Apollo 13 checklist long held by Lovell, commander of the ill-fated mission, fetched just over $388,000 during a sale by a Dallas, Texas, auction house.  NASA's legal office halted the transaction, which the agency's inspector general began an investigation into the lawful ownership and right to sell issue. The aging astronauts claim they were openly allowed to hang on to mission manuals and other souvenirs by high-ranking administrators of their day.

    "These are American heroes, fellow astronauts, and personal friends who have acted in good faith, and we have committed to work together to find the right policy and legal paths forward to address outstanding ownership questions," said Bolden in a post-meeting statement. "We also appreciate their patience and will explore all policy, legislative and other legal means to resolve these questions expeditiously and clarify ownership of these mementos, and ensure that appropriate artifacts are preserved and available for display to the American people."

    Nevertheless, the episode clearly compounded the ill will between the Apollo vets and their contemporaries. Lovell and Cernan have joined with Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong to pen open letters and testify before Congress in the last two years to challenge the merits of the Obama Administration's post-shuttle human exploration agenda.

    After their meeting with Bolden, Lovell, Cernan, Duke and Schweickart assembled for a joint appearance on Fox News  It was evident the Apollo vets, who average 78 years of age, feel strongly they've earned the right to determine the future of their memorabilia because of the risks they faced.

    "After 42 years, Apollo 13 still has a problem," Lovell told Fox. His handwritten notes on the checklist helped establish a safe haven for the three man crew as Apollo 13 rounded the moon in April 1970 and limped back to Earth following an oxygen tank explosion.

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    Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan salutes the U.S. flag at Taurus-Littrow on Dec. 13, 1970.  Photo Credit/NASA 

    "The thing that bothers me and several of us is the impingement on our personal integrity," noted Cernan, who was the last man to walk on the moon as the commander of Apollo 17 in 1972. "For almost a half-century we have had the trust of the American people. We are being accused of violating that trust, and I resent that quite personally."

    Schweickart, who served as the Apollo 9 lunar module pilot in March 1969, said the dispute threatens a tradition among some of the early astronauts to sell their memorabilia to fund scholarships for promising future engineers and scientists.

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    Apollo 9 lunar module pilot Rusty Schweickart conducts a spacewalk outside the command module Gumdrop on March 16, 1969. Photo Credit: NASA

    "It was rather confusing to us and frankly quite disturbing," he said. "But this morning, I think, we are finding ourselves well on the way to a resolution of this misunderstanding."

    "Hopefully after our meeting today, we will have some positive equitable resolution," Duke, who recalled presenting personal mementos to President Richard Nixon after his 1972 Apollo 16 moonwalk, told Fox.

    Tags: os99, NASA, Apollo

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