The space shuttle isn't the only old piece of NASA equipment that's making headlines. The space agency has filed suit against Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell in an attempt to reclaim a 40-year-old camera.
A federal lawsuit filed Wednesday in Miami claims that Mitchell, the lunar module pilot and sixth man to walk on the moon, illegally tried to auction off a camera he used during his 1971 lunar mission.
"Defendant Edgar Mitchell is a former NASA employee who is exercising improper dominion and control over a NASA Data Acquisition Camera," NASA alleged in court documents obtained by The Palm Beach Post.
Not so, says Mitchell.
"The thing had been sitting in my safe for 40 years -- I got it right after the mission," Mitchell told AOL.
The camera in question, used to photograph a variety of aspects of the Apollo 14 mission, was estimated to have been worth between $60,000 and $80,000 by Bonhams auction house.
According to the lawsuit, any equipment used on board Apollo missions remains the property of NASA and the space agency had no record of giving the camera to Mitchell.
The astronaut disagrees.
"The lunar modules didn't come back from the moon and everything in them -- all the equipment -- was considered government throwaways and it was deliberately crashed into the moon to ring seismometers that we set up to get data from inside the moon. However, we had an agreement with NASA management at that point that little things, like the cameras, could be kept," said Mitchell, a trained engineer and scientist and author of "The Way of the Explorer," who founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences in 1973. "That was standard practice and it was approved by NASA as incentive stuff."
He says that until he put the camera up for auction with the intention of raising cash for his research organization, Quantrek, the government never asked him to return it.
This undated image made available by the U.S. Department of Justice shows a 16mm camera that went to the moon with astronaut Edgar Mitchell on Apollo 14. NASA is suing Mitchell to get back the "Data Acquisition Camera." The lawsuit filed Thursday, June 30, 2011 in South Florida federal court contends Mitchell recently tried to sell the camera at an auction. NASA says there's no record that the device was ever transferred to Mitchell and the agency wants it back.
"I thought the extra money from that would help," he said.
Mitchell believes at some point in between the Apollo and space shuttle programs, NASA regulations were modified.
"Apparently, they changed the rules after I left NASA's service. Since the shuttle was a reusable spacecraft, it didn't include throwaway material, like we had in the lunar module. So, they quit allowing crew members to take stuff from the flight."
Why does Mitchell think the government even cares if he sells the camera?
"Because they want it back," he explained. "I consider it my property. Once we were given it, it's our property and we could do with it what we please, and that's what we're going to have to show in court."
The threat of a lawsuit from the federal government reportedly convinced the auction house to remove the camera from a recent sale.
"It's a fiasco and so unnecessary," said Mitchell. "We thought this was all resolved a long time ago and we were clearly not doing anything outside the rules, and all the things given to us were presented as incentive gifts and thank-yous for serving on the mission. And I've got several items all given to me by NASA when I served on different missions."
While Mitchell hasn't even officially been served with legal papers yet, he's feeling pretty confident about the outcome of the case.
"Oh, there's no question we're going to win it."