These 14 Space Collectibles Are Worth a Combined $8.7 Million
As NASA, China, Russia and Elon Musk's SpaceX look forward to 2020 endeavors, we want to look back at space-exploration history and its collectible artifacts. From genuine moon rocks to freeze-dried spaghetti, space memorabilia can command astronomical prices, thanks in large part to its scarcity.
The most desirable items originate in the U.S. and former-Soviet Union space programs. And since most actual space-flown artifacts remain property of their respective governments, items that do enter the public orbit are incredibly desirable. So much so that major houses like Sotheby's and Bonham's regularly hold big-ticket space history auctions. There's even a website, CollectSpace.com, devoted to the hobby.
And now, without further delay, we're go for launch. "Let's light this candle!"
Apollo 15 Commander David Scott's Bulova Chronograph Wristwatch
Price: $1.625 million
The official NASA-issued wristwatch of the Apollo program, Omega Speedsters were worn by astronauts for every moonwalk, save one. During 1971's Apollo 15 mission, David Scott's Omega watch broke, so instead he sported his personal back-up Bulova Chronograph. The timepiece, which originally retailed for about $500, sold at auction in 2015 for $1.625 million.
Apollo 13 Flight Plan
Whether you remember 1970's Apollo 13 saga happening in real time, or learned the story from the 1995 movie starring Tom Hanks, everyone's familiar with the fateful words communicated by Commander Jim Lovell to Mission Control: "Houston, we've had a problem." Two days into the lunar flight, an on-board oxygen tank exploded — aborting the mission and forcing improvised means to return the spacecraft safely to Earth. Apollo 13's original 352-page Flight Plan book was figuratively tossed out the window.
Back on terra firma, the crew autographed the extensively hand-annotated plan and presented it to the mission's Lead Flight Planner with the inscription, "To Bob — A truly perfect flight plan as far as we got." At Sotheby's in 2017, this historic space-flown document hammered for $275,000.
Soviet-Collected Moon Rock Samples
Looking to procure a bona fide piece of the moon for a bargain price? You're outta luck. All lunar rock samples collected by the U.S. Apollo program and U.S.S.R. (now the Russian Federation) robotic Luna missions are either property of their respective governments, or were given as goodwill gifts to foreign nations and all fifty U.S. states.
The exception? These three itsy-bitsy grains of moon material (basalt and regolith) were scooped up by the 1970 Soviet Luna-16 mission and gifted to the widow of Russian space-program pioneer Sergei Korolev. The only documented moon rocks legally held in private hands, they first sold at auction in 1993 for $442,500, then changed ownership again in 2018 for $855,000.
Snoopy Astronaut Doll
This circa-1969 Snoopy astronaut doll commemorated the beloved Peanuts' character's role as mascot for NASA's Manned Flight Awareness Program. The back of Snoop's helmet was autographed by Apollo 10 Commander Tom Stafford, helping this rare piece snag $1,875 at auction in 2015.
Astronaut Hand Casts
Space is chilly, so you're going to need gloves. In 2016, Bonham's auctioned this collection of 15 plaster hand molds, originally used to tailor-make spacesuit gloves for Apollo astronauts. Mounted on wooden bases with brass name plaques, the hands grabbed $155,000.
Sputnik-1 EMC/EMI Lab Model
Igniting the Cold War "Space Race," October 1957 saw the U.S.S.R. launch the unmanned Sputnik-1 satellite, which orbited the globe for three months. Then, like a flaming shot of 100-proof Smirnoff, the craft re-entered Earth's atmosphere and burned up. Fortunately for collectors, the Soviets also built full-scale Sputnik-1 replicas for electromagnetic testing. Of the five known existing models, two are in museums, while the others rest in private collections. Top-dollar paid for one of these spherical Ruskie relics was $847,500 at a 2017 Bonhams auction.
'First Telephone Phone Call To The Moon,' Autographed Transcript
Records of President Richard Nixon's Oval Office conversations helped land him in hot water, but here's an exception. This partial transcript of the historic phone call from the White House to the moon on July 20, 1969 — the day man first stepped on the lunar surface — was autographed by Nixon and the Apollo 11 crew, and fetched $31,325 at a 2019 Bonhams auction.
'Saturn as Seen from Titan' Painting by Chesley Bonestell
Inspiring generations of backyard astronomers to turn pro, this ethereal portrait of the ringed planet (as seen from its icy moon, Titan) has been dubbed "the painting that launched a thousand careers." Brushed by legendary celestial artist Chesley Bonestell (pictured), the piece first appeared in a 1944 issue of Life magazine. The artwork became so iconic, Bonestell would go on to paint six versions of it. This 1959 rendering won $13,750 at auction in 2018.
Apollo 11 'Lunar Sample Return' Bag
Price: $1.8 million
If you're going to gather moon rocks, you need a bag. At auction in 2017, Neil Armstrong's cloth pouch (empty, yet stained with genuine moon dust) collected the highest price ever paid for a NASA artifact.
In '69, upon Armstrong's return from his historic lunar walk, he handed this bag to Apollo 11 Command Module Pilot Michael Collins (who hadn't stepped on the moon) and said, "If you want to have a look at what the moon looks like, you can open that up." Gee thanks, Neil.
Russian 'Vostok 3KA-2' Space Capsule
Price: $2.9 million
In April 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin manned the first human spaceflight aboard a Soviet-built Vostok capsule. Three weeks prior to Gagarin's historic journey, this unmanned 3KA-2 model of the spacecraft carried a mannequin (nicknamed "Ivan," naturally) and a space dog named Zvezdochka ("Little Star" in Russian) into the heavens. At a 2011 Sotheby's auction, the capsule captured $2.9 million, the highest price ever paid for a space artifact.
Apollo 12 Astronaut Alan L. Bean's 'Favorite Meal'
Price: $50,000 to $80,000 (estimated)
Nevermind Tang. On 1969's Apollo 12 mission, Lunar Module Pilot Alan L. Bean aimed to be "the first human to eat spaghetti on the moon." Buon appetito, sir!
NASA packed Bean two dehydrated pasta meals, including "9291 Spaghetti With Meat Sauce"; "Orange 9288 Grapefruit Drink"; and for dessert a delightful pouch of "9293 Peaches." Yum! Bean could only manage to choke down one of the meals, while the other returned to Earth and was offered in 2015 by Bonhams with a pre-sale estimate of $50,000 to $80,000. It failed to sell, and we can't imagine why.
'Mercury Seven' Astronauts, Autographed Photo
You know the "Mercury Seven" astronauts from what many consider the best NASA-centric movie ever, "The Right Stuff." Photos and ephemera autographed by the whole gang typically command $3,000 to $6,000. Out-selling them, this 1960 group shot taken during training in the Nevada desert and signed by six of the seven astronauts (the missing signature is Gus Grissom), fetched $13,750 at a 2016 Bonham's auction.
Space Shuttle IBM-Manufactured Computer
You're likely reading this list on a lightweight phone equipped with infinitely more computing power than this bulky, 50-pound IBM dinosaur that once flew aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis. Originally manufactured for NASA at a cost of $1.3 million, it sold at auction in 2011 for less than $10 grand.
Project Gemini Spacesuit
Since the Smithsonian Institution has first dibs on all NASA-used spacesuits, they're non-existent in the public realm. So this high-altitude pressure suit tailored for Gemini astronauts Pete Conrad and Frank Borman (pictured here during the Apollo 8 mission) is as close as you'll get to the real space-flown McCoy. Worn by a U.S. Air Force parachutist during Gemini test flights, the suit soared to $162,500 at auction in 2018.