Astronauts may soon 'own' mementos brought from space

The US House of Representatives has adopted a bill to grant astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions ownership to space memorabilia they collected during their careers.

The bill passed by a voice vote on Wednesday would settle ownership questions that NASA began to raise after several aging astronauts, including Apollo 13 commander James Lovell - a Cleveland native - tried to auction some of their space souvenirs, 'Cleveland Plain Dealer' reported.

If passed by the Senate, the bill would let the roughly 70 astronauts of that era keep personal logs, checklists, flight manuals and disposable flight hardware they salvaged from jettisoned lunar modules - and sell them if they wish.

It wouldn't apply to moon rocks and other lunar material.

Advocates of the bill, including Lovell, say it's needed to protect the astronauts from legal claims over artifacts still in their possession as well as items they've donated to colleges and museums, transferred to family members, or privately sold. "I think it is a miscarriage of justice that NASA should seek return of these mementos and keepsakes," House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Ralph Hall of Texas argued on the House of Representatives floor.

"This is a necessary bill that will protect our iconic early astronauts from needless harassment," agreed the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, adding that she felt the policy should also be extended to later astronauts.

NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said the agency is willing to abide by whatever Congress decides, the report said.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden met with astronauts including Lovell in January to discuss how to resolve ownership questions about their artifacts.

"I believe there have been fundamental misunderstandings and unclear policies regarding items from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Skylab programs, and NASA appreciates the position of the astronauts, museums, learning institutions and others who have these historic artifacts in personal and private collections," said a statement that Bolden released at the time.

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