Human conquest of the cosmos has the ability to inspire humans like little else and, in the brief time we’ve been slipping these surly bonds, we’ve done remarkably well, all things considered. In the cosmic sense this span but a blink of blink. We’ve walked on the moon, sent craft to mars to explore the surface, sent satellites hurtling headlong into the unknown of the Milky Way beyond our system and we’ve taken pictures of the beginning of time. These are but baby steps for which future generations will be grateful because they will enjoy the fruits of this early labor.
Little wonder then that the pieces, parts, ephemera and personal memorabilia associated with America’s space program – the men and women who, in large part, made science fiction a reality – have made collectors of all sorts sit up and take notice.
“The supply of the really important items is certainly finite,” said Howard Weinberger, Senior Space Consultant for Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, and CEO of Asset Alternatives. “The old saying is that if you collected all the personal items from the six missions that landed on the moon, all of it would fit in a small suitcase.”
Weinberger is talking about the cream of the crop, the things that the Apollo astronauts took special pains with to make sure they were on the lunar surface and spent time in the vacuum of space. The rest of the field – from souvenir patches, parts and models, autographs and well beyond – has as much room for variance of budget as a collector could wish and a plethora of material that – like the very subject it covers – can sometimes seem infinite.
Unlike so many categories of collecting, the market for space is still being established. The subject has long been popular, but the ability to get the very best of The Right Stuff was not there until recently, as many of the astronauts themselves – or their families, if they’ve passed on – have realized the value, both historic and financial, of their accomplishments. The more that the remaining original astronauts release key pieces of their extra-terrestrial lives, the more established the market will become.
One of the most important things space collecting has going for it is its appeal, said Weinberger. The steady increase in prices at auction in the three years he’s been working with Heritage shows just how broad this appeal is.
“I think it’s a function of the fact that people are now aware that these items can be bought,” said Weinberger, who is among the few with the connections to bring the choicest pieces to auction. “The genre is unique because the demographic, in my opinion, is among the top three to five potential demographics for collecting.”
Meaning there’s almost no soul on this planet that doesn’t know about, and isn’t at least peripherally fascinated by, space travel.
“Show a baseball card, a comic book or a regional American quilt to a woman in Asia,” Weinberger said, “and it won’t translate. If you go back to 1969, to Apollo 11 and the first moon landing, you have the entire planet watching. Everybody remembers where they were when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, or when Alan Shepard went up with Mercury.”
The broad scope of potential buyers is indeed as varied as the material, as a few minutes with the following pages will show. As the field sorts itself out, it is tough to break down into categories. The astronauts, and all the workers at NASA – from the men who walked on the moon to the guys that swept up at the end of the day – were all aware from the beginning of the historic nature of their pursuit – and it potential value.
This prospective worth, then, necessitates at least an attempt at breaking the hobby into categories. According to Weinberger, this is not something that should be done by item type, but rather by mission type and purpose.
“There’s not a lot of the very best stuff, so there is a hierarchy of sorts that has evolved,” he said. “The highest rung is for items that actually landed on moon and went on the surface.
Then it’s something that landed on the moon but didn’t leave capsule. After that it’s memorabilia that flew to the moon but only stayed in orbit. From there it’s about things that flew in space, things that were strictly in earth orbit and things that didn’t fly in space but are of a personal nature belonging to the astronauts, or having their autographs.”
Within these several categories, however, again there can be a striking difference in price depending on the name and the program it’s associated with.
Whatever level a collector is looking at to get into the market for space memorabilia, the most important thing is authenticity, especially at the high end. In fact, Weinberger said, if it comes from an astronaut’s personal collection, a signature and/or a letter of authentication is of paramount importance.
“No matter what it is, even if it’s purchased personally from an astronaut, it has to be certified,” he said. “The most desirable certification is having the signature on the item itself. If it has that, and a letter as well, then so much the better.”
The most important thing to get started is not a broad general knowledge of what’s out there, but to simply have a passion for it no matter how much cash you can put in. You can buy autographs, first-day covers or specially minted Robbins medals that flew on every Apollo mission. You can spend a few hundred or a few hundred thousand; either way, it’s an accessible market.
“You can start with something basic,” Weinberger said. “The overall amount of memorabilia related to space is endless.”
It’s a good thing, then, that the enthusiasm of collectors, especially for something as inspiring as space travel, seems to be equally as endless. ?
The astronauts of the Apollo 8 mission were so inspired by their view of the earth from moon orbit the previous Christmas Eve that they read the biblical account of the creation story from Genesis. Noted atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair brought suit against NASA over this Bible reading, asking the courts to ban any further such activity.
Though the courts eventually rejected the suit, NASA was quite nervous about further religious activities throughout the rest of the Apollo program. Buzz Aldrin, a Christian and an elder at the Webster, Texas, Presbyterian Church, wished to express his personal faith and give thanks to God by the taking of the Holy Communion on the moon. His church furnished him with the wine and wafer, which he stowed secretly in his kit. He described the activity in his book Return to Earth (Bantam Books, 1973): “During the first idle moment in the LM before eating our snack, I reached into my personal preference kit and pulled out two small packages which had been specially prepared at my request. One contained a small amount of wine, the other a small wafer. With them and a small chalice from the kit, I took communion on the moon, reading to myself from a small card I carried on which I had written the portion of the Book of John used in the traditional communion ceremony.”
He had wanted to read the scripture back to earth, but NASA requested that he not do so. Instead, he read from this card, on which is written: “Houston This is Eagle The LM Pilot speaking. I would like to request a few moments of silence. Over. I would like to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his own individual way – – My way shall be by partaking of the elements of Holy Communion.”
His fellow astronaut, Neil Armstrong, watched but did not partake. The verses he would have liked to have read are found at the top of the other side of this handwritten card: “An [sic] Jesus said, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.’ [John 15:5]”. There are additional, and appropriate, verses beneath in a different ink that Aldrin did actually quote three days later during a TV broadcast by the astronauts aboard Columbia the evening before they splashed down safely in the Pacific. He writes: “Psalm 8: v. 3,4 ‘When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou has ordained; What is man that thou art mindful of him? And the Son of Man, that thou visitest Him?’” ?
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