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NASA halts 'naut flogging Apollo 13 notebook

Jim Lovell put emergency checklist up for auction

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NASA has sparred with one of its most famous astronauts over the sale of a checklist of life-saving calculations.

Jim Lovell, commander of the Apollo 13 mission, led the ruptured space vessel to a safe return landing on Earth in 1970 - but now the 83-year-old has right royally angered his old bosses by auctioning off the notebook that he used to calculate the daring emergency landing.

Lovell had been in the process of selling off the 70-page checklist notebook at an auction – after finding a buyer prepared to stump up $388,000 – before NASA stepped in and halted the sale, disputing Lovell's ownership of the book. The checklist is particularly valuable because it contains the jotted calculations that the 'naut used to work out the circumlunar "free return" trajectory the craft needed to make the safe splashdown into the Pacific Ocean.

NASA met Lovell and other former astronauts yesterday in an attempt to calm the situation down and resolve the ongoing issue of who owns space mementos. Calling the 'nauts "American heroes", NASA chief Charles Bolden said in a statement that the agency and the spacemen would work together to "address outstanding ownership questions".

"I believe there have been fundamental misunderstandings and unclear policies regarding items from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Skylab programs," he said. Bolden stressed that NASA's aim was to preserve important artefacts so that they could be available for display to the American people.

NASA have a piecemeal record on keeping track of space relics, recently admitting it had lost track of hundreds of moon rocks and lunar samples. NASA's meeting with the former astronauts marks a softer approach to the issue of space memorabilia: the boffinry agency previously sued an Apollo 14 astronaut who tried to sell off a video camera he'd taken on the mission. ®

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