CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Wednesday, September 19, 2012, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 4158, a bill that would confirm full ownership rights for certain United States astronauts to artifacts from the astronauts' space missions, under a suspension of the rules requiring a two-thirds majority vote for approval. The bill was introduced on March 7, 2012, by Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) and referred to the Committee on Science and Technology.
H.R. 4158 would confirm that Astronauts who flew in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, who received an artifact, momento, or hardware during his participation, should have full ownership of and clear title to the artifact. The bill would also state that the federal government has no claim or right to ownership, control, or use of any artifact in possession of an eligible astronaut, or of any artifact that was subsequently transferred, sold, or assigned to a third party.
The bill would define “artifact” as any expendable item utilized by an astronaut in missions for the Mercury, Gemini or Apollo programs, through the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, that was not expressly required to be returned to NASA at the end of the mission, and other expendable, disposable, or personal-use items used in the program. The bill states that this would include personal logs, checklists, flight manuals, prototype and proof test articles used in training, and disposable flight hardware salvaged from jettisoned lunar modules.
The bill would specifically exclude lunar rocks and material from the definition of artifacts that astronauts would be entitled to keep.
Throughout the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs (including Skylab and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project), NASA managers routinely allowed astronauts, at the conclusion of a mission, to keep mementos, pieces of hardware, and personal equipment (e.g., space suit emblems, food, hand controllers, and checklists) from the spacecraft. In some cases, these artifacts have been in the possession of an astronaut for almost forty years. Beginning in the mid-2000s, NASA began to challenge the ownership of these artifacts by Apollo-era astronauts in some cases. As a result of the actions by NASA, rightful ownership of artifacts still in the astronauts’ possession – as well as those donated to colleges and museums, transferred to family members, or privately sold – has been brought into question, exposing astronauts to possible (and significant) damages if ownership is not clearly established.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that implementing H.R. 4158 would have no significant impact on the federal budget.