Ex-astronaut Mitchell says moon camera a NASA gift

July 20, 2011 - 12:30 PM

MIAMI (AP) — Former astronaut Edgar Mitchell says a camera he brought back from the 1971 Apollo 14 moon mission was given to him by NASA despite the space agency's lawsuit seeking its return, according to court papers filed by Mitchell's attorney.

Mitchell lawyer Donald Jacobson wants the NASA case dismissed, contending that a four-year statute of limitations has long since run and that there are no records to disprove his contention that the camera was a gift.

"Dr. Edgar Mitchell is an American hero," Jacobson wrote in the papers filed late Tuesday. "Dr. Mitchell knows he received the camera as a gift, and all the government can say is that it doesn't know one way or the other."

NASA sued Mitchell earlier this month in federal court after the camera — technically known as a 16mm Data Acquisition Camera — surfaced as part of a proposed auction of space-related items. NASA contends the device remains the agency's property and is demanding its return.

Mitchell, now 80, is one of only 12 humans to walk the lunar surface. He piloted the lunar module on Apollo 14 and, along with fellow astronaut Alan Shepard, spent about nine hours on the moon collecting samples and walking lengthy distances to show it could be done safely. Shepard also memorably swatted a golf ball and Mitchell threw a rod javelin-style.

In the court papers, Jacobson explains that Mitchell decided to unbolt the camera from the lunar module before their return to Earth to preserve the tape inside. The module was designed to crash back on the moon once the astronauts were safely aboard the space capsule.

"The camera obviously was considered expendable by NASA at the time," the document says.

After the astronauts splashed down, they and all their equipment were quarantined for three weeks. It's not plausible, Jacobson wrote, that NASA would have failed to catalog and track the camera along with everything else that went on Apollo 14 during that quarantine period — or that Mitchell could have taken it without NASA consent.

A Justice Department attorney representing NASA did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Wednesday.

Mitchell, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and other awards, gained notice after the mission by disclosing that he had attempted to communicate using telepathy with friends on Earth. Since retiring from NASA in 1972, Mitchell has devoted much of his life to exploring the mind, physics, the possibilities of space aliens and ways of linking science and religion.

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