FBI Recovers Astronaut's Missing Medal

FBI Recovers Astronaut's Missing Medal
Apollo 13 commander Captain James Lovell, Jr. salutes after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Richard M. Nixon, right, on April 18, 1970 in Hawaii. Lovell's Apollo 13 crewmates, Fred Haise, left, and Jack Swigert, left, also received the medal, the nation's highest civilian award. (Image credit: NASA.)

APresidential Medal of Freedom that was prepared for award to Apollo 13astronaut Captain James Lovell, Jr., and which was missing since 1970, was recentlyrecovered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the bureau's Chicago office announced on Tuesday.

A slightdefect in the medal resulted in its replacement being manufactured andpresented in its place to Lovell. The damaged medal was intended to be destroyedbut instead it foundits way out of the White House and into the hands of a private collector in Pennsylvania.

On January5, 2007, that same collector listed the medal for auction on the website eBay.Originally advertised under the heading "Presidential Medal of FreedomJames A. Lovell Apollo 13," the auction was ended by the seller severaltimes to make adjustments to its description. In the process, she removed allmention of Lovell's name. At the time she wrote that the omission was done tocomply with eBay policies.

Accordingto the FBI, Lovell learned that the medal was being offered for sale and becameconcerned about the propriety of the auction, the negative effect it might haveon the medal as well as on other recipients of the award.

As a result,Lovell contacted the FBI.

Aninvestigation by the FBI's cyber crimes unit identified the seller and led tothe recovery of the medal late last month. The authenticity of the recoveredmedal has been verified by the White House.

To date, noarrests have been made nor have charges been filed in connection with therecovery of the medal, although the FBI's investigation is still ongoing.

The medalpresented to Lovell is still in his possession. He and his Apollo 13 crewmatesFred Haise and Jack Swigert received the honor, the nation's highest civilianaward, on April 18, 1970 by President Richard M. Nixon at Hickam Air Force Basein Honolulu, Hawaii. The crew had just returned safely to Earth the dayearlier, having survived an in-flight explosion before reaching the Moon.

"I amgrateful to the FBI for their quick response," said Lovell, "andproud to be a recipient of our nation's highest civilian award."

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Robert Z. Pearlman
collectSPACE.com Editor, Space.com Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.