MIAMI — NASA is questioning whether Apollo 13 commander James Lovell has the right to sell a 70-page checklist from the flight that includes his handwritten calculations that were crucial in guiding the damaged spacecraft back to Earth.
The document was sold by Heritage Auctions in November for more than $388,000, some 15 times its initial list price. The checklist gained great fame as part of a key dramatic scene in the 1995 film "Apollo 13" in which actor Tom Hanks plays Lovell making the calculations.
After the sale, NASA contacted Heritage to ask whether Lovell had title to the checklist. Greg Rohan, president of Dallas-based Heritage, said Thursday the sale has been suspended pending the outcome of the inquiry. The checklist, he said, is being stored for now in the company's vault.
Rohan said Lovell provided a signed affidavit that he had clear title to the ring-bound checklist, which is standard procedure. Heritage does robust business in space memorabilia and this is the first time NASA has ever raised questions about ownership of its items, he added.
"It's one that is near and dear to our hearts," Rohan said of the space collectibles business. "We, like a lot of people, consider these astronauts to be national heroes."
The latest inquiry follows a federal lawsuit NASA filed last year in Miami against Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell seeking return of a camera he brought back from his 1971 moon mission. That lawsuit was settled in October when Mitchell agreed to give the camera to NASA, which in turn is donating it to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington.
NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs said the lawsuit and Lovell inquiry do not represent an aggressive, broad new agency effort to recover space items.