One small slip for man, one giant mistake for space heritage?

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+.


When he's not tired, fixing his car or caught in train delays, Alun Salt works part-time for the Annals of Botany weblog. His PhD was in ancient science at the University of Leicester, but he doesn't know Richard III.