NASA's own inspector general concluded in a shocking report that the U.S. space agency has lost a number of relics due to poor record keeping.
NASA Losing Space History Artifacts
The items lost over the decades include items that flew to space and other historically-significant items. The reports say that the items were either misplaced or taken by former employees and contractors.
One item, a prototype rover, turned up in a residential neighborhood in Alabama. It was only identified when an Air Force historian spotted it on sale. However, even when the owner was willing to send it back to the space agency, NASA did not seem interested. After four months of waiting for a call, the owner decided to sell the rover to a scrap metal company.
"NASA officials subsequently offered to buy the rover, but the scrap yard owner refused and, realizing its historical value, sold the vehicle at auction for an undisclosed sum," the inspector general found.
The U.S. space agency also lost an Apollo 11 lunar collection bag that contained lunar dust particles. The report revealed that the item was seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation from the home of a former chief executive from the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. It was eventually sold in an auction for $1.8 million.
NASA only learned that it has lost the bag when the purchaser asked to verify its authenticity in 2015. While the space agency requested to take possession of the item, a judged turned it down.
In another instance, three command module hand controllers that were used to steer the Apollo 11 spacecraft were properly stored at the Johnson Space Center. However, an employee was told to throw it out so he, instead, sold them. NASA is still looking for the items three years later.
NASA's Record Keeping Should Improve
The report by the Office of Inspector General said that while there have been improvements in the past couple of years, NASA "does not have adequate processes in place to identify or manage its heritage assets." It also offered recommendations to prevent any more loss including developing procedures for managing assets and revisiting loaning protocols.