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NASA sues astronaut over Apollo 14 camera

Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell tries to auction a lunar camera from his mission. NASA insists it is not his property and sues to get the camera back.

If you were the sixth man on the moon, you might think that, like Hollywood actors on a set, you deserved a souvenir or two.

It seems that, 40 years ago, after Edgar Mitchell performed his moonwalking duties, he took a lunar movie camera home with him, one that he tried to auction in May.

In Reuters' description, Mitchell's lawyer says that he received permission from NASA to take the camera.

The mention of the word "lawyer" might lead you to conclude that there might be a dispute. Indeed, the U.S. government, on behalf of NASA, has reportedly filed papers in court to prevent the auction from happening and to have the camera returned to NASA.

CC Kevin Collins/Flickr

Donald Jacobson, Mitchell's lawyer, told Reuters: "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."

However, NASA is saying that as it has no written record of the transfer of ownership, it should have it back.

Indeed, the Palm Beach Post says the government is being remarkably insistent in its filing. It quotes the papers as saying: "Defendant Edgar Mitchell is a former NASA employee who is exercising improper dominion and control over a NASA Data Acquisition Camera."

The camera was expected to fetch somewhere between $60,000 to $80,000, which doesn't seem a vast enough amount for NASA to toss a conniption.

Still, it is now up to a Miami court to suddenly decide who enjoys rightful ownership.

Mitchell himself told the Palm Beach Post that astronauts took dozens of items with them after a mission. He said the lunar module that he piloted was actually blown up, once it returned to Houston. He believes that the camera and other items in his possession--like a hand controller--are nothing more than "government junk."

He did admit to the Post that NASA had, in the past, asked for the camera back. He believed the matter had been laid to rest.

To the untrained, non-legal eye, this case might seem a little mean-spirited. Mitchell served his nation in an honorable manner. Why turn around after 40 years and claim he stole a camera?

Might it be something to do with the fact that Mitchell has expressed views that some regard as eccentric, such as claiming that aliens have better technology than humans?