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Astronaut Sued By NASA For Trying To Sell Apollo Camera

MIAMI, Florida ~ (Palm Beach Post/AOL News) ~ The US space agency NASA has filed a lawsuit against Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell in an attempt to reclaim a 40-year old camera.

A federal lawsuit filed in Miami on July 6th claims that Mitchell illegally tried to auction a lunar camera he used during his 1971 moon landing mission. According to court reports obtained by the Palm Beach Post NASA alleged that "Defendant Edgar Mitchell is a former NASA employee who is exercising improper dominion and control over a NASA Data Acquisition Camera".

Mitchell, a lunar module pilot and the sixth man to walk on the moon, denies NASA's claim on the camera which was used to photograph a variety of aspects on the Apollo 14 mission. According to the lawsuit, any equipment used onboard Apollo missions remains the property of NASA and the space agency has no record of giving the camera to Mitchell. But the astronaut disagrees, saying, "the lunar modules didn't come back from the moon and everything in them, all the equipment, was considered government throwaways and it was deliberately crashed into the moon to ring seismometers that we set up to get data from inside the moon. However, we had an agreement with NASA management at that point that little things, like the cameras, could be kept. That was standard practice and it was approved by NASA as incentive stuff." Mitchell claims that until he put the camera up for auction to raise money for his research organization, Quantrek, the government never asked him to return it.

Mitchell also believes that, at some point between the Apollo and space shuttle programs, NASA modified their regulations on space equipment. "Apparently, they changed the rules after I left NASA's service. Since the shuttle was a reusable spacecraft, it didn't include throwaway material, like we had in the lunar module. So, they quit allowing crew members to take stuff from the flight," Mitchell said. The threat of a lawsuit from the Department of Justice convinced the Bonhams Auction House to remove the camera from a recent sale. The auction house estimates its value to be between $60,000 to $80,000.

"It's a fiasco and so unnecessary," said Mitchell. "We thought this was all resolved a long time ago and we were clearly not doing anything outside the rules, and all the things given to us were presented as incentive gifts and thank-yous for serving on the mission. And I've got several items all given to me by NASA when I served on different missions," said Mitchell. While he hasn't been served with official papers yet, Mitchell is very confident that the outcome of the case will be in his favor.

Photo credit: US DOJ/AP

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