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There’s a checklist from the Apollo XIII mission owned(?) by Jim Lovell. It’s an interesting puzzle from an astro-heritage point of view and something I’ve not given any thought to at all. In fact there’s two puzzles. One is legal ownership and the other is what heritage value does it have and neither question is connected much. The only connection I see is that if there is no heritage value then people won’t get worked up too much about the ownership.

Jim Lovell reading a newspaper story about the Apollo 13 mission

Jim Lovell discovers he got back to Earth safely thanks to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Photo: NASA.

I get the impression NASA would have been within their rights to claim ownership, but if they allowed astronauts to keep mementos, then that’s their mistake. I’m surprised that a checklist with crucial calculations was discarded from a failed mission, but I don’t know the exact circumstances of how Jim Lovell got to keep it, but it seems NASA wasn’t that heritage aware at the time.

At the same time I don’t know what heritage value it has. Heritage value isn’t the same as historical or archaeological value. While the calculations are historically important, is the paper that holds them necessary to understand the history of the trip?

What I can see is that there’s a big emotional hit with the artefact. Seeing the authentic artefact puts you vicariously in a position of being in deep trouble in deep space. The emotional value is nothing to be sneered at. It’s part of being human and it’s going to play a part in discussions whether you directly address it or not. A sensible conclusion is going to have to deal with the emotional and experiential side of the checklist.

For those who think the answer is obvious, this is tax-payer funded material therefore the tax-payer owns it, here’s another puzzle. Suppose an Apollo astronaut gets paid to endorse Moon Juice a new fizzy sugar-laden drink. The only reason he is getting the job is because tax-payers funded him to go to the moon. Does that mean that the tax-payers should get the fee and not the astronaut? It’s not an exact analogy, this is a material artefact. Yet if it’s an artefact that was going to be discarded by NASA it wrong for an astronaut to own it, or is it a better solution that nobody owns it? Should Mitchell’s camera have been left on the Moon where no one could access it?

I don’t see an obvious answer that satisfies everyone. Another good piece by +Amy Shira Teitel.

A post that originally appeared on Google+.