NEW YORK, June 30 (Reuters) - The U.S. government has sued
a former NASA pilot to recover a movie camera that was used to
explore the moon's surface during the Apollo 14 mission.
The lawsuit, filed in Miami federal court on Wednesday,
accuses Edgar Mitchell of illegally possessing the camera and
attempting to sell it for profit at a New York City auction.
In March, NASA learned that the British auction house
Bonhams was planning to sell the camera at an upcoming Space
History Sale, according to the suit. The item was labeled
"Movie Camera from the Lunar Surface" and billed as one of two
cameras from the Apollo 14's lunar module Antares. The lot
description said the item came "directly from the collection"
of pilot Edgar Mitchell, the suit said. It had a pre-sale
estimate of $60,000 to $80,000.
Mitchell was a lunar module pilot on Apollo 14, which
launched its nine-day mission in 1971 under the command of Alan
Shepard. The sixth person to walk on the moon, Mitchell is now
retired and operates a website selling his autographed
"All equipment and property used during NASA operations
remains the property of NASA unless explicitly released or
transferred to another party," the suit said, adding that NASA
has no record of the camera being transferred to Mitchell.
The United States said it has made repeated requests to
Mitchell and his lawyer to return the camera but received no
response, according to the suit.
Mitchell's lawyer, Donald Jacobson, said NASA management
was aware of and approved Mitchell's ownership of the camera 40
"Objects from the lunar trips to the moon were ultimately
mounted and then presented to the astronauts as a gift after
they had helped NASA on a mission," Jacobson said.
Bonhams said in an emailed statement that the camera was
slated to be auctioned off at its May space history sale when
it learned from NASA about issues surrounding the camera's
title. The auction house withdrew the camera from sale "pending
further discussion between NASA and the consignor," a Bonhams
spokesperson said, noting that "there are no current plans to
offer the camera at a Bonhams auction."
The government is asking the court to stop Mitchell from
selling the NASA camera to anyone, to order its return and to
declare that the United States has "good, clean and exclusive
title" to the historical artifact.
Mitchell has made headlines in the past for his stated
belief in the existence of extraterrestrial life.
The case is USA v. Mitchell, U.S. District Court, Southern
District of Florida, No. 9:11-cv-80751.
(Reporting by Terry Baynes)