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Spring space sales: Space history artifacts and astronaut mementos up for auction


A Mercury-era spacesuit is among the almost 300 space artifacts that Bonhams will auction in New York City this April. (Bonhams)
March 19, 2014 — You never know where you're going to find space history for sale.

From a Madison Ave. gallery to the U.S. Marshals Office, artifacts and memorabilia from some of the most historic space missions are now, or soon hitting the auction block. And that's just the start of the "spring space sale season," which also includes a chance to bid for an astronaut's time in support of student scholarships.

A silvery-Mercury spacesuit, a fabric swatch from Apollo 13's astronaut couches, and a control panel from Russia's Mir space station are among the many artifacts being sold by Bonhams in New York City and Gaston and Sheehan in central Texas, the latter on behalf of the U.S. Marshals.

Meanwhile, the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) is auctioning the opportunity to join Bob Crippen, the space shuttle's first pilot, to tour NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.


STS-1 pilot Robert Crippen will accompany the high bidder in the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation's spring auction on tour of the Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building. (ASF)
Online bidding for the Marshals' auction began on Tuesday (March 18). Bonhams' sixth annual Space History Sale is scheduled for April 8. The scholarship foundation's spring auction of astronaut experiences and memorabilia begins Friday (March 21).

And the three are only the first sales on a calendar of at least seven space-memorabilia-dedicated auctions set for now through early June.

Confiscated, consigned and donated

The 50 lots up for auction on Gaston & Sheehan's website originate from a decade-old legal case that involved space artifacts going missing from a Kansas museum.

The ensuing court proceedings found that the prior curator of the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, Max Ary, had stolen and sold artifacts from the museum. But those are not the pieces that are now for sale.


Acrylic-encased fabric swatches from the astronaut couches that flew on Apollo 13 are among the 50 lots being offered by Gaston and Sheehan on behalf of the U.S. Marshals. (Gaston & Sheehan)
Instead, the moon-flown space patches, Apollo spacecraft heatshield samples and film rolls were from Ary's personal collection that the government required he forfeit. After 10 years being held in storage, the U.S. Marshals Office has released the memorabilia for public sale.

Ary, who has since served his time and now is director of the Stafford Air and Space Museum in Oklahoma, wrote descriptions for each of the items. In some cases, he has also volunteered to arrange letters of authenticity from the astronauts who originally gifted him with the artifacts.

The Gaston and Sheehan sale closes on April 1 after two weeks of bidding.

Whereas Ary's items were confiscated, the nearly 300 lots being offered by Bonhams New York were consigned.

That includes the sale's three spacesuits: a Soviet Strizh spacesuit, an prototype Apollo A6L spacesuit and, as has been highlighted by Bonhams, a spacesuit from the United States' first manned flight program, Project Mercury.

"The Mercury spacesuit epitomizes the earliest days of space exploration," Cassandra Hatton, senior specialist in space history, said. "Astronauts were regarded as heroes, doing what we all wished we had the courage to do, and risking their lives for the greater good of mankind. This suit is a symbol of that courage and an important historic relic."


Soviet Strizh pressure suit developed for Russia's space shuttle Buran, as listed in Bonhams 2014 Space History Sale. (Bonhams)
The circa-1960 Phase 2 pressure suit is estimated to sell for $8,000 to $12,000.

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation debuted the 30 lots comprising its spring auction on Wednesday (March 19).

In addition to the Crippen-led tour of the space center, the ASF is raising scholarships for college students excelling in science, technology, engineering and math degrees by offering a selection of astronaut-donated memorabilia. The auction includes a checklist used in training for Apollo 13, a "Snoopy" decal that flew on the Skylab orbital workshop, and a polo shirt worn by astronaut Dan Brandenstein while aboard space shuttle Columbia.

On the horizon

Hundreds, if not thousands, of more space collectibles will be offered for sale in the coming three months.


Skylab astronaut Ed Gibson donated this flown Snoopy decal to benefit the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. (ASF)
On April 5, Lunar Legacies, a long-time space memorabilia dealer, is planning an online auction of "autographs, flown items, hardware, booklets, manuals, patches, badges and much more from all space programs."

In May, Dallas' Heritage Auctions and RR Auctions of New Hampshire will each host a space-themed sale. Heritage's "Space Signature Auction" is scheduled for May 14. RR's space and aviation auction follows the next week on May 22.

On June 4, Regency-Superior Galleries of St. Louis will be hosting its own space-themed auction. The catalog for the sale will be available beginning in April.

For a complete schedule and links to each of the auctions mentioned in this article, see collectSPACE's calendar.

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