Internet auction site eBay has acted to prevent people trying to auction purported debris from the space shuttle Columbia which was destroyed in an accident on Saturday (US and Japanese time).
Some people began hawking what they claimed was debris from the shuttle just hours after the break-up of the craft flashed across the world's television screens.
EBay pulled at least two auctions from the Web site within 12 hours of the disaster, one headlined "Columbia Space Shuttle Debris" with an initial price of $US10,000 and another headlined "Space Shuttle Columbia Debris Wreckage" with a price tag of $US5,000. Clicking on either brought up a message saying the auction was either "invalid, still pending or no longer in our database."
On Sunday the company issued a statement regarding the listing of debris on the Web site.
"The handling of any debris from the Space Shuttle Columbia is potentially dangerous and against Federal law," it said. "Any listing of shuttle debris on eBay, now or in the future, will be immediately removed from the site. In addition, eBay will cooperate fully with law enforcement agencies requesting information about users attempting to list illegal items."
The number of items yanked from the site numbered no more than a handful, eBay spokesman, Kevin Pursglove, said.
"My guess is it was around 10," he said. "Based on past experience, I would guess a good number were pranks, however, it is possible that someone had retrieved some debris and was selling it on eBay."
Several auctions selling Internet domain names associated with the incident were also pulled from the service including columbiadebris.com and missionsts107.com. Whether the seller possessed the domains was unclear. A search of the domain name database at Network Solutions Inc. showed each was unregistered.
Such auctions made up a small portion of the more than 1000 listings for Columbia-related memorabilia that filled the site from Saturday. Many were for photographs or mission patches but there were also items such as plastic modelling kits, magazines and a few of the heat tiles offered when Columbia made its first flight.
US Saturday special edition regional newspapers were also for sale as were, on Saturday afternoon, as yet unprinted copies of New York's Sunday newspapers, which were expected to be devoting much of their space to coverage of the disaster.
By Sunday afternoon the number of Columbia-related items had reached more than 3,200.
EBay started a discussion board related to the tragedy. It was soon full of messages expressing condolences for the astronaut's families and shock at some of the sales being posted on the Web site.