Law addresses question of space artifact ownership



U.S. astronauts who participated in many of NASA's early space missions will receive full ownership rights to artifacts from those missions through legislation that President Barack Obama signed into law on 25 September. The legislation, which received broad bipartisan support, provides artifact ownership rights to any of NASA's Mercury, Gemini, or Apollo space programs through the completion of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, whose flight occurred in July 1975. The law defines artifacts as expendable, disposable, or personal use items—including personal logs and flight hardware salvaged from jettisoned lunar modules—used by astronauts that were not required to be returned to NASA; lunar rocks and other lunar material are not defined as artifacts. Bill cosponsor Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Tex.), chair of the House of Representatives' Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, said on 19 September, “A majority of these items have been in the personal possession of the astronauts for 40 years or more. Over the last decade, NASA has begun to challenge the astronauts' ownership of these mementos. This issue was first brought to my attention late last year. I was surprised to learn that NASA had, on an irregular basis, intervened several times to claim ownership.”