LAKE WORTH, Fla. - Edgar Mitchell is a pilot, an astronaut, and according to his Presidential Medal of Freedom, a hero. However, according to NASA, Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon, is also "a former NASA employee who is exercising improper dominion and control" of a relic of space history.
"It was a multi-speed camera. You could either take single pictures or a series of frames with it. It was called a Data Acquisition Camera," said Dr. Mitchell.
Destined for the scrap-heap, lunar modules were often stripped of memorabilia before being abandoned to the lunar surface.
"That was our practice because, the lunar modules were not reusable spacecraft. In fact none of the Apollo mission equipment was really reusable, particularly, the lunar module," said Dr. Mitchell.
Today, Mitchell is in possession of many cosmic keepsakes, including a control stick used to guide the module during landing.
"We had an agreement with NASA management, that small items that didn't exceed our weight limitations, we could bring back. This was the incentives that we used, with little bits and pieces of memorabilia, to spur on the people that worked with us. Particularly the people that didn't fly," said Dr. Mitchell.
Mitchell recently put the camera up for auction, attracting the attention of the federal government, who then filed suit. The government asked for the camera to be returned to NASA saying it had never been officially given to Mitchell.
"When we got into the command module to come home, in addition to taking the data, I brought the camera itself back too. We'd talked with management and we knew what we we're bringing back," said Dr. Mitchell.
Ironic, says the former astronaut, since the camera would never have made it back to Earth if Mitchell hadn't brought it back with him in the first place.