Auctions I Cannot Afford

I recently came across a space autograph and artifact auction at R.R. Auctions. Over the last week, I’ve been drooling over the items I cannot afford. The auction ended today. The articles were from all of the NASA manned programs – Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Apollo-Skylab and the Space Shuttle.

Most of the items are not very interesting, just signed photos (SP) and covers (stamps) from various missions, or items from Mission Control.

What I was really excited about were the “flown” items. That is, items that have actually been into space on missions. Those are the ones I wanted!

I scanned through the entire catalog (401 items) and found a few flown articles that were still not too expensive. Some of the flown flags were already in the thousands of dollars. The smaller items were in the hundreds of dollars.

From the Apollo program, there were 1×1 inch strips of kapton, which was used on the outside of the returning Command Module, small strips of beta cloth, which was a flame-proof white cloth used for straps, nets and even the white Apollo spacesuits. There were also some pages from the mission manuals.

Only one non-flown item was interesting to me: the Apollo fight plans. These were the 300-page books that detailed every moment of the 12-days missions with instructions for each astronaut. While not flown, they were immensely interesting. But hard to justify the cost when the books are also available for download as PDFs now from the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal web site. The Apollo 11 flight plan opened at $300 and closed at $5,296.

There was a one-page (double-sided) flown checklist from STS-5, the fifth Space Shuttle mission. That one page traveled 3,397,082 kilometres during the 5 day mission. That’s likely further than I will ever travel during my entire lifetime. The bidding opened at a reasonable $100, but completed at $525, which was too high for me for a single page.

One of the more desirable items was the personal preference kit (PPK) bag from astronaut John Young during the 11-day Apollo 16 mission. It would have been used for personal and private mementos. The opening bid was an affordable $200, but it closed at $5016.

John Young is a hero of mine. He is the only astronaut who flew in the Gemini (Gemini 3 and 10), Apollo Command Module (Apollo 10), Apollo Lunar Module (Apollo 16) spacecrafts and the Space Shuttle (STS-1 and STS-9).

He was the Command Module pilot for Apollo 10, which practiced the procedures for the lunar landing that took place on the next mission (Apollo 11, less than two months later). He was therefore the first person to orbit the moon alone. He and his crew mates still hold the record for the fastest speed of any humans – 39,897 km/h during their return from the moon.

For Apollo 13, he was on the backup crew. When the mission aborted due to the Service Module explosion, he played a role in determining how to stretch the consumables on the LM, now functioning as a life-boat.

On Apollo 16, he was the commander and descended to the lunar surface, where he and Charles Duke spent three days.

He flew the first Space Shuttle mission, STS-1 and the ninth, STS-9, both on the Columbia. The first mission, the first time a full-up manned mission was done as the first launch of any American manned space vehicle. Previous programs started with unmanned launches of the vehicles; this was also how the Russian Buran shuttle program was done.

Captain Young retired from NASA in December 2004 after 42 years of service, with an active astronaut career from 1965 to 1983.

John Young was really a cool cat. During the Apollo 16 lunar landing, his heart rate peaked at 90 beats per minute. Neil Armstrong’s was 150. During the STS-1 launch, his heart rate also didn’t rise above 90 when his pilot, Bob Crippen, was 130.

Back to the auction, I kept looking over the small items, watching their prices, and thought seriously about sending a bid. However, on the last day of the auction, the prices started to rise dramatically.

For example, a single page from the Apollo 11 flight plan, flown to the moon, rose from an opening bid of $1000 to $22,275.

A 1 inch piece of a safety line from Apollo 14 rose from $100 (affordable) to $1,641. For a 1 inch long piece of rope…

A double-sided lunar surface checklist page from Apollo 17 opened at $200 and closed at $2,246.

I spotted an item I thought I could afford and would be worth having. A 0.75×0.75 inch square of beta cloth that was soiled with actual moon dust from Apollo 16, which opened at $200. During the days before the close of the auction, the price had increased to around $500, which was on the edge of what I thought I could afford. However, when the auction ended, the closing bid price was $1,504. This would have been one of the few opportunities to acquire moon dust.

The highest priced item was a flight-flown American flag from Apollo 11, which opened at $2,500 and closed at $39,710.

Sigh.

I would have liked to own something that had flown and landed on the moon, but it doesn’t look like that will ever be achievable.

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