Sunday, April 21, 2024

Legal Talk Texas: The Space Hammer

On November 24, 1969, Apollo 12 returned to Earth after completing a successful journey to the moon. Aboard was a small stowaway: the space hammer astronaut Alan Bean had used to smash rocks on the moon.

Over half a century later that space hammer took center stage in a family dispute that played out in a Harris County Probate Court.

Why the fuss over a small bit of hardware? At the beginning of the space program, NASA considered the space artifacts from the space programs worthless. NASA was interested only in lunar rocks and other lunar material. Thus, astronauts were free to carry home their personal logs, checklists, flight manuals, test articles and disposable flight hardware. The astronauts, being a bit more forward-thinking, did so in droves.

Four decades passed before NASA realized that those artifacts had value. Unable to wrest the memorabilia from the astronauts. NASA called in the DOJ and its lawyers, who promptly sued the astronauts. The astronauts called their congressmen. The congressmen rose to the occasion and in 2012 a new law resulted: Owners and Ownership-Artifacts of Astronauts. This law granted ownership of the artifacts to the astronauts.

In the meantime, Alan Bean had married, had children, divorced, and then married again. Before the second marriage, he and his wife-to-be signed a prenuptial agreement confirming their separate property would remain separate, and any gifts they received during marriage would remain separate property.

Alan died in 2018, and his will was probated in Harris County. A dispute arose over the now valuable space hammer. The probate court found that the 2012 law effectively gifted the space hammer to Alan, making it his separate property, and his second wife had no claim to it.

The Texas laws of probate and separate property apparently apply to the moon and back.

Attorney Virginia Hammerle writes weekly for the Dallas Morning News. For more information, see Sign up for her monthly newsletter at [email protected]


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CTG Staff
CTG Staff
The Cross Timbers Gazette News Department

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