US sues astronaut over sale of 'moon camera'

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The US Government has sued a former NASA astronaut to recover a camera used to explore the moon's surface during the 1971 Apollo 14 mission after seeing it up for sale at a New York auction.

The lawsuit accuses Edgar Mitchell of illegally possessing the camera and attempting to sell it for profit. In March, NASA learned auction house Bonhams was planning to sell the camera, according to the filed papers.

The item was labelled "Movie Camera from the Lunar Surface" and billed as one of two cameras from Apollo 14's lunar module, Antares. The lot description said the item came "directly from the collection" of pilot Edgar Mitchell and had a pre-sale estimate of $60,000 (£37,000) to $80,000.

Mitchell was a lunar module pilot on Apollo 14, which launched its nine-day mission in 1971 under the command of Alan Shepard. The sixth person to walk on the moon, Mitchell now runs a website selling his autographed picture. He has made headlines for his stated belief in extraterrestrial life.

The lawsuit said that NASA had no record of the camera being given to Mitchell and the former spaceman had not responded to repeated requests to return it.