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Confirming Full Ownership Rights to Artifacts from Astronaut's Space Missions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. HALL. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I want to begin by thanking members of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Republicans and Democrats, for their bipartisan support of this legislation. I especially want to commend my good friends Lamar Smith and Eddie Bernice Johnson for their help and for their early support.

H.R. 4158 would confirm full ownership rights to our Nation's first generation of astronauts who flew during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo era and who received or were allowed to retain artifacts, mementos, and other personal equipment from their missions. H.R. 4158 covers all flights beginning in 1961 through the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, which flew in July of 1975.

From the first days of our manned spaceflight program through the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, at the conclusion of a mission NASA managers routinely allowed astronauts to keep mementos of their flights. In some instances, astronauts were also given certain pieces of expendable equipment. The range of items included space suit emblems, expendable space suits, checklists, flight manuals, and disposable flight hardware salvaged from the jettisoned lunar landers.

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.

Early this year, NASA Administrator Bolden met with a small group of astronauts to discuss the agency's artifacts policy. Following the meeting, through NASA's press office, Administrator Bolden issued a statement saying:

These are American heroes, fellow astronauts, and personal friends who have acted in good faith, and we have committed to work together to find the right policy.

He went on to say:

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.

This bill seeks to eliminate in any further ambiguity about Apollo-era artifacts that were received by the astronauts. It simply says that astronauts who flew through the end of the Apollo program will be granted full right of ownership of any artifacts received from their missions. If we don't pass this bill, the artifacts and the astronauts face huge financial risks arising from donations, gifts, and sales already completed.

These men are heroes. They're great heroes. Sadly, we had to say good-bye to one of these heroes just last week. They took extraordinary risks to establish American preeminence in space and, by doing so, helped our country become a world leader. I think it's a miscarriage of justice that today NASA should seek return of these very same mementos and keepsakes.

I reserve the balance of my time.


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