Full Coverage: Debris sale ignores history|
Seller admits to Challenger debris fraud
10:23 p.m. ET, July 6, 2001 — The seller has responded with the following:
I am really sorry and am writing this email to all of you who responded to my fake eBay auction item. This auction was a joke. The item wasn't authentic, I just listed it as a dare and was going to cancel the auction after a couple of days anyway. I didn't realize that would taken so seriously or that it was in such poor taste. I'm sorry to anyone who was interested in purchasing this item. I would like to extend and apology to all those offended or hurt by my action.
If the seller is telling the truth and the listing was a hoax, he can still be prosecuted for fraud. As of this morning (after the auction was cancelled) NASA's investigation was continuing.
Seller ends auction, defends debris
2:11 a.m. ET, July 6, 2001 — The auction was canceled by the seller at 11:54 p.m. ET Thursday, a little over a day after it was first posted to eBay.
Prior to it being pulled, collectSPACE received an e-mail from the seller regarding the item's history:
"My father was friends with a man from the navy who was assigned to be on the recovery crew for the shuttle. My father was in Florida, 3 days after the explosion and was a collector of rare music memorablila and he traded a rare item for this piece of the challenger. When the explosion occured, all branches of the military were assigned to shuttle recovery. I have the millitary information and name of the man who found and traded the item, however I did not include it in the auction to protect his privacy, I also did not want to get him in trouble."
collectSPACE also spoke with Sam Maxey, Assistant Inspector General for Investigations for NASA HQ, confirming the space agency would investigate the sale.
Challenger debris auction repeats history
July 5, 2001 — Like many in the United States, eBay seller 'hook4hand' chose to mark Independence Day by remembering his U.S. history. His decision however, to sell debris from the space shuttle Challenger may soon serve to limit his personal freedom.
The seller, known only by his username, described his lot as "a genuine piece of the Challenger Shuttle collected from Cape Canaveral, FL. by a member of the recovery crew serving there at the time."
His text and picture further identified the item as a 2 by 3/4 inch fragment of insulation recovered from the orange colored external tank.
"This is an extrememly rare piece of American History from an tragic event that shocked the nation," wrote hook4hand.
Its rarity may be traced to a federal law which prohibits possession of debris from the Challenger wreckage. Violation is subject to a maximum $10,000 fine, 10 years in prison or a combination of both.
Hook4hand's auction, which began Wednesday at 5:26pm ET, comes almost one year after another eBay user was tried for a similar sale.
Charles Starowesky of Somerset, Ohio, posted a 6 by 6 by 2.5 inch thermal tile to the online auction site on October 28, 1999. He explained he had "pulled [the fragment] from the water of the Atlantic Ocean" as a member of the first U.S. Coast Guard recovery team to respond to the explosion.
After a resulting NASA investigation, Starowesky pled guilty to violating Title 18, Section 641 of the United States Code, Theft of Government Property. On August 23, 2000, he was sentenced to two years probation.
Soon after hook4hand's lot was posted, an unidentified but concerned collector alerted the space agency.
"I have contacted the NASA Inspector General's office," read a post to an online discussion group, "and have left a message on two machines regarding the item, which will undoubtably become an investigation."
At the time of publication, the auction remained scheduled to close on July 14, with no one yet bidding the minimum $1000 requested by the seller. Attempts to contact hook4hand for comment were unsuccessful.
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