A Teflon-coated white jacket that astronaut Buzz Aldrin wore during the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon in 1969 sold for $2.7 million, or around 2.6 million, during a a Sotheby’s auction this week, fetching the highest price among dozens of rare memorabilia pieces chronicling his career in space exploration.
Aldrin, now 92, has a busy career as an astronaut. Less than three years after joining NASA, in 1963, the former US Air Force pilot performed the world’s first successful spacewalk on the Gemini 12 mission. July 20, 1969, millions watched on TV as he became the second man to walk on the moon, some 20 minutes after Neil Armstrong declared it “a giant leap for mankind”.
The bespoke jacket Aldrin wore on that mission sold after a fierce nine-minute auction, with the auctioneer calling it “the most valuable American space artifact ever auctioned”. (The clothes worn by the other two Apollo 11 astronauts on this mission belong to the Smithsonian Institution.)
A total of 68 of the 69 lots of Aldrin’s possessions were sold for a total of $8 million by Sotheby’s in Manhattan, in an auction that lasted more than two hours.
Derek Parsons, spokesman for Sotheby’s, said Aldrin’s sale was “the most valuable space exploration auction ever”. It broke a record set by an auction of items belonging to Armstrong, who died in 2012, but the other astronaut’s total collection still holds the overall record.
The most coveted artifacts sold on Tuesday traveled to the moon more than five decades ago. A complete Apollo mission summary flight plan sold for $819,000.
Only one lot did not sell. It included the small, broken circuit switch that nearly abandoned the Apollo 11 crew on the moon, and a dented aluminum pen that Aldrin used as a manual workaround to achieve liftoff. Bidding stalled at $650,000, well below the auction’s $1 million estimate.
Aldrin said in a statement that “the time has come to share these objects with the world, which for many are symbols of a historic moment, but for me have always remained personal memories of a life devoted to science and exploring”.
Also auctioned were golden lifetime passes to Major League Baseball games, for $7,560, and an MTV Video Music Awards statuette inspired by the iconic image of Aldrin placing the American flag. on the surface of the moon, which grossed $88,200.
A Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest honor for civilians, awarded to Aldrin by President Richard Nixon, sold for $277,200. These medals don’t frequently appear at auction, Parsons says.
There was also a letter dated December 10, 1973, written by Armstrong, which amounted to $21,420. In it, he tried to dissuade Aldrin from turning his memoirs into a movie: “I can’t think of any biography of a living person that has ever been turned into a good, high quality movie.” Aldrin was unconvinced. The biopic aired three years later. Although this film was not a critical success, Aldrin inspired the name of Buzz Lightyear, Pixar’s animated character from the Toy Story films.
Ten of the 69 lots in the sale came with a non-fungible token, or NFT, a unique digital identifier for authenticity. Others, like flight plans with a checklist of items to bring into space — helmet, tissues, snacks — were inscribed with Aldrin’s signature and the phrase “Flown to the Moon.”
According to Cassandra Hatton, senior specialist at Sotheby’s, more space artifacts have come up for auction since a law was passed in 2012 allowing astronauts to keep and sell their memorabilia from space. Before the law was passed, NASA had repeatedly tried to block sales of such items, such as James Lovell’s checklist of the Apollo 13 expedition.
“Before, it was kind of a touch-and-go situation,” Hatton says. “People were selling things and there was really no clarity. So there was always this kind of concern that maybe NASA would come in and shut down an auction.
A 2018 audit by the US space agency’s inspector general found that NASA’s inconsistent record keeping led to the loss of a “significant amount” of its assets. In June, NASA lawyers intervened in the sale of dead cockroaches that had ingested moon dust. Before the sale was halted, bidding for the insect trio had reached $40,000.
Sotheby’s space sales are now its most popular category, attracting a wide audience of bidders, Hatton said, adding that the price ranges make the items more accessible than other valuables, such as fine art. arts. The auction house has previously sold items belonging to other astronauts, including a small white bag Armstrong used to collect moon rock samples, which fetched $1.8 million in 2017.
Hatton says she believes the fascination with space artifacts and moon missions, the last in 1972, lives on because of the importance of these discoveries in human history. “It’s a moment that reminds us all of what we can do,” she says. “We can achieve the near-impossible, like we can escape our destiny of being stuck on this planet. We can do amazing things.” – This article originally appeared in The New York Times
2022 The New York Times Society