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NASA searches the stars but can not keep track of all earthly goods

In a residential area in Blountsville, Ala, a prototype vehicle lost by NASA was found. (Courtesy of the US Air Force.)

NASA is a special place.

It sends astronauts into space with remarkable precision.

It enhances our knowledge of the universe with amazing images and scientific exploration.

It regularly heads polls that track the commitment and morale of federal officials.

Why can not the agency that documents the stars and planets track their earthly goods better?

A new report from the Office of the Inspector General of the Agency states that despite decades of improvements, "a significant portion of historical personal property has been lost, relocated or taken over by former employees and contractors because the agency has no adequate procedures."

Look at the Report of the Report on these elements that floated away:

– In 2014, a rover vehicle prototype was found in a residential area in Blountsville, Ala. The owner was ready to return it to NASA, but "after waiting for more than four months for NASA's decision, the person sold the rover to a junkyard. NASA officials later offered to buy the Rover, but the owner of the junkyard refused and sold the vehicle after recognizing the Rover's historic value for an undisclosed sum. "NASA and the Inspector General had no information about how the Rover had got away with it

– "Poor records have contributed to NASA losing possession of a lunar duffel" Apollo 11 "that contained lunar dust particles." The authorities picked up the bag in 2013, and the US Marshals Service sold it to a private citizen in 2015 for $ 995. After one arm of the government had sold the moon bag, another arm, NASA, sued the bag, but it was lost. In July 2017, the bag was auctioned for $ 1.8 million.

– The Inspector General's Office learned that an Omega Speedmaster Professional watch – a NASA model used in space shuttle space missions – was auctioned in London in December 2014. Due to NASA's poor data collection, it was not clear if this watch had actually flown during a Space Shuttle mission; At the time of his death, however, the watch was in the possession of the German astronaut Reinhard Furrer. "The government paid $ 2300 for the clock and sent it to the Smithsonian for the exhibition.

– A NASA supervisor told an employee to throw away three Apollo 11 hand controls in 1985, such as video game joysticks. Instead, the employee brought the controls home and sold them years later to a collector of space memorabilia. NASA was late in trying to get the air traffic controllers back so they could be exhibited at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. "After three years, NASA stopped tracking the items."

– You can be the first in your crowd to own a piece of space memorabilia. Heritage Auctions sells what it calls "Neil Armstrong's own and worn early flight suit straight out of the Armstrong Family Collection." As of Tuesday afternoon, the offer for the one-piece, light blue cotton jumpsuit with an "embroidered NASA meatball" vector patch on the left breast was $ 11,000.

NASA's report, "NASA's inability to adequately preserve or consider the material," could result in the loss of "historically valuable assets for NASA and the country." However, NASA has "sometimes" hesitated to assert a claim for title to the articles. "

The restraint is reinforced by the attitude "It's not my job".

When Inspector General Inspectors interviewed staff at two NASA offices dealing with historical items, "None of the staff at this and other offices we met during this review gave any responsibility for identifying or managing the NASA heritage . "

In another case, Kennedy Space Center staff said that they needed the contractor to set up a concession in the visitor's facility to decide which items belonged to the cultural heritage. The Inspector General's report politely suggested that it would not be a good idea for a contractor to do so.

Sometimes NASA lends items to other organizations, but without a signed agreement or security plan. A NASA form outlines the terms of a loan, but borrowers do not have to sign the form because they agree with the terms. This can lead to confusion.

In 2013 Kennedy awarded the University of Texas at El Paso with items from the 2003 Columbia Space Shuttle explosion that killed seven astronauts. One form stated that the loan should expire in 2015, but the university staff told the inspectors it was indefinitely. NASA "extended the term of the loan due to verbal discussions with university staff," the report said. Nor did NASA require the university to inventory the artifacts annually.

NASA agreed with most of the Inspector General's recommendations, including the development of a more effective process of identifying and managing historical real estate. NASA would not continue to comment on the content of the report to the Federal Insider, ignoring a question as to why the procedures were so lax at first.

If NASA continues to let up, the Inspector General had a warning:

"Until NASA improves its processes, the Agency's approach to regaining significant elements of the past will continue in a random, inefficient, and ultimately unsuccessful manner."

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