– After 60 years of space exploration, NASA could do a better job of tracking its history, federal investigators have discovered.
The Office of the Inspector General of NASA (OIG), the independent research arm of the space agency, recently completed an audit of NASA's historical ownership and, after several high-profile losses, recommended that the agency take a more effective in identifying and managing your space artifacts.
"NASA's processes for lending and disposing of historic personal assets have improved over the past six decades, but former employees and contractors have lost, taken or taken a significant amount of historic personal property due to lack of adequate procedures in the agency, "OIG reported.
In addition, the researchers said, the OIG's efforts to recover artifacts that escaped NASA control were "thwarted" by the space agency's "poor record keeping and lack of established processes."
The OIG carried out its review of NASA's historical holdings as an extension of an eight-year evaluation of the Agency's aging infrastructure and facilities. The audit came shortly after several investigations into spacecraft for which NASA had a strong interest in recovering but, instead, were abandoned as a result of the agency's reluctance or inability to assert property quickly.
In one such case, dating from 2015, a historian from the United States Air Force saw what he believed was a prototype lunar vehicle in an Alabama residential yard. After reporting the finding to NASA, the case was referred to the OIG, which learned that the owner of the rover was willing to return the lunar cart to NASA.
"The OIG asked NASA to take ownership of the vehicle and, if appropriate, make plans to accept it as a donation," the audit reports. "However, after waiting more than four months for a decision of the agency, the individual sold the vehicle to a scrap company."
The new owner of the vehicle rejected NASA's final offer to buy the four-wheel buggy and, instead, auctioned it for an undisclosed sum.
In another example cited by the OIG, the fact that NASA did not maintain active control of its borrowed artifacts resulted in a lunar sample returning from the first lunar landing to private property ruled by a federal judge and eventually sold by the most paid space artifact. in a public auction. The bag had been loaned to a museum, but an inventory error led to its confiscation and subsequent sale as part of a robbery case overseen by the United States Marshals' Office.
Apollo 11's moon-stained dust bag sold for $ 1.8 million in 2017.
"In the past, the OIG has spent years working on such cases only for NASA to finally withdraw its interest in the return of the property or for the court to decide that the existing owner had legitimate ownership of the property," the audit.
In addition to other concerns, the OIG discovered that NASA's past actions to deliver or dispose of devices added confusion to efforts to recover federal property.
During the first Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs of the 1960s, for example, astronauts were allowed to take parts of spacecraft blown up as memories without a documented procedure for releasing the items. Decades later, when those same astronauts began selling their collections, the lack of paperwork led to a confrontation between the OIG and NASA veterans. To solve the problem, Congress had to pass legislation that affirmed the astronauts' title about their memories.
But even that 2012 law left open questions. His supervisor ordered an employee who had the task of preparing artifacts for presentation to astronauts to discard a set of manual spacecraft controllers at the end of the Apollo program, including one used to take the crew of Apollo 11 to the moon . The employee, on the other hand, took the artifacts home and years later tried to sell them at auction.
"When NASA learned of the sale, it sought the return of the controllers," the OIG said. "[But] After three years, NASA suspended its search for the items. "
The OIG report acknowledged that NASA has made improvements to its policies, for example, in the way it managed the disposal of the artifacts at the end of the space shuttle program in 2011, but recommended that the agency develop more complete procedures for maintain their assets, including deciding if it is the "most effective owner" and what property the space agency retains due to its historical value.