I'm not sure what you expect us to say. I'm not sure we have enough facts here to make a well reasoned judgment.
If the report is to be believed, it appears that the woman knew she was trying to sell something that wasn't legal for her to sell. That makes the question of her culpability somewhat cut-and-dried. It doesn't matter under those circumstances whether NASA took good care of the Apollo samples. If she believed she had legitimate ownership of the material, why not sell it on the open market?
Under U.S. law, if one believes one is breaking the law, that makes one liable. If you buy oregano, naively believing that it's marijuana, you are guilty of buying drugs. Since the woman appears to have acted with malice, that counts very badly against her.
Does it reflect badly on NASA and the U.S. government? Yes, probably, but that's going to be an issue upon which we might legitimately disagree. Picking on little old ladies just looks bad even if the little old lady is behaving inappropriately.
Precisely, but wouldn't you think Armstrong would come to her defense? If anyone can sell these rocks outside the government, she's the most qualified
Depends. It sounds like someone in NASA got some of the dust from the equipment and turned them into paper weights, then likely they had a ceremony thing where Neil and the others shook hands with a heap of engineers and gave them the items.
From the engineer's point of view Armstrong would have given it to him, but from Armstrong's, even if he recalled it, he likely did a lot of those sort of things at the time, he wasn't personally giving away rocks so if asked "Did you give anyone a moon rock?" the correct answer would be no.
I do think it was slightly un-necessary to have 5-6 heavily armed deputies charge in. I'm sure that it could have been handled a lot better.
It must be fun to lead a life completely unburdened by reality. -- JayUtah
"On two occasions, I have been asked, 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able to rightly apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question." -- Charles Babbage (1791-1871)
after she contacted NASA to see if it could help her find a buyer, federal agents set up a sting.
The case seems to rest on whose property the speck actually is. Her attorney says that there is no law prohibiting the ownership or sale of moon material. A statement that is given some credence by the fact that six months later, no charges have been filed. If the chip was given to her husband by NASA, then it is her property. If it was given to her husband in an unofficial way, it may still be government property, but that does not excuse a heavy duty man handling of an 74 year old 110 pound woman.
This does not appear to be a criminal offense and a simple injunction to stop the sale until its provenance could be determined would have been the appropriate action. It appears to me that NASA simply wanted to confiscate the object and instead of the using civil actions they chose to use use unnecessary force to circumvent her rights to due process.
For those who wish to maintain an illusion, ignorance is the best source of knowledge.
That's what I was worried about. Before anyone can make any sort of defensible moral judgment, one has to get the facts. And where the facts are coming from the media, selectively presented and colored according to editorial intent, one can't get a good idea of them. That's really all a court case is intended to do: determine what the facts are most likely to be.
If there is evidence of actual malice, it's more of a legal slam-dunk. But if there isn't evidence of actual malice, then the case turns on many finer points and must be carefully and deliberately dissected. According to CBS there doesn't seem to be any malice; the woman legitimately believed it was hers to sell.
The case seems to rest on whose property the speck actually is.
Indeed. Unfortunately as explained below, it's the property of the U.S. government unless shown to be otherwise.
Her attorney says that there is no law prohibiting the ownership or sale of moon material.
True but misleading. There is no law that specifically mentions Apollo lunar samples. They are simply considered U.S. government property, and people in whose custody government property resides may not sell it and pocket the proceeds.
Whether it really is government property is what's in question.
A statement that is given some credence by the fact that six months later, no charges have been filed.
Six months is not a long time to build a criminal case, especially if the suspect is not being held. Federal prosecutors move at the speed of government. If she hasn't heard anything after about two years, she should be reasonably safe.
Only a great cretin of a prosecutor would charge her, I think. Regardless of any legal merit of the case against her, I doubt many federal juries would rule against an elderly widow trying to care for her family by selling what she believed was her property. A smart prosecutor would realize that's an unwinnable case and save himself the trouble.
If the chip was given to her husband by NASA, then it is her property. If it was given to her husband in an unofficial way, it may still be government property...
That's probably not how a court would see it. U.S. law has a clear and extensive understanding of the difference between possession and ownership. NASA's general policy is that lunar samples it gives out as gifts remain the property of the U.S. government even if they are still in private possession. Under that policy, the attempt to sell any Apollo lunar sample privately would be sufficient evidence by itself to establish probable cause.
To possess the sample would be just fine; those would have been the normal terms under which the sample had been presented. But to sell the sample asserts ownership, which is not granted under the terms of the transfer, hence NASA can then assume the property has been "stolen" rather than being simply under someone else's care.
It's similar to the bailment created when you leave your car with the valet. He has possession of it, and is expected to exercise reasonable care and present it to you on demand in the same condition. He may act in certain ways to exercise his duty of care, such as drive it to a place of his choosing for safekeeping. But while he has possession and custody of it, he does not have ownership. He may not sell your car, or use it for collateral for a debt obligation, or in any other way encumber your title to it.
In short, NASA may not have to prove it's "stolen" property.
Since an umbrella policy has existed for a long time, the woman would have to prove that her husband not only had possession of the sample but also title. That could be done with an explicit transfer of title: a document that establishes that the presentation to her husband was a transfer of title, in exception to the otherwise prevailing policy of transfer of custody.
It could also be done if she could show that NASA abandoned title to it. For example, if NASA cleaned the space suits of returning astronauts and discarded the sweepings, someone could recover the sweepings from the trash and claim ownership. Or if there were an explicit abandonment of title, which occurs when government property is decommissioned, although that typically requires a public auction if the property is deemed of substantial value.
The bottom line is that because of NASA's published policy, the woman would have to mount an affirmative defense, which puts the burden of proof on her (even in court). And I doubt she has the burden of proof.
As I said, I would be very surprised if she were charged, especially with all the negative publicity this case has attracted. However, even if she isn't charged with dealing in stolen U.S. government property, it's unlikely she will get the rock back. Unless she can prove she had title to it, not just possession, then NASA can assert its original title over the sample and demand it be returned.
...but that does not excuse a heavy duty man handling of an 74 year old 110 pound woman.
No argument from me on that point. It's highly likely that the woman would have complied with less invasive and heavy-handed measures. She probably would have responded to a simple "knock-and-talk" visit by an agent to discuss the legality of the sale.
There is a black market for Apollo lunar material, and this likely affected how the agents chose to deal with here. They probably harbored much more suspicion than the evidence warranted.
As I said above, she may not have had legal ownership of the speck or the right to sell it. Only knowing the provenance of the item will prove that. It seem to me that the full facts will make the media, simply because it will likely be dropped.
But, no one ever roughed up Alan Bean for openly selling his paintings that he claims contain moon dust. I just find this kind of over zealous use of force and property seizure when civil enforcement would suffice to be alarming.
For those who wish to maintain an illusion, ignorance is the best source of knowledge.