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Space collector's legacy heads to auction: Leon Ford's NASA artifacts for sale

The late Leon Ford (left) with Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden holds the name tag and flag Worden wore to the moon. (RR Auction)
June 24, 2015

— More than 100 artifacts from the estate of one of the first significant space memorabilia collectors will be auctioned Thursday (June 25) in Boston.

The sale, organized by RR Auction, features a selection of the stand-out pieces curated by Leon Ford, a commercial photographer whose passion for space exploration led him to befriend other collectors and astronauts alike. Ford died unexpectedly of a heart attack in August 2014 at age 53.

"He loved the astronauts and he loved collecting materials that had flown," said Bobby Livingston, RR Auction's vice president, in a video about Ford. "He was a completist. He had one of everything. When we went through his files, he had every mission, every photo, every astronaut."

Ford's collection spanned the complete history of NASA's human spaceflight program, from the Mercury missions in the early 1960s through the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011. His focus though, was the Apollo voyages to the moon, for which he had artifacts from all six landings.

Among the highlights of Ford's collection was a pouch that held some of Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin's personal mementos as they were flown to lunar orbit and back. The Personal Preference Kit (PPK) bag had already attracted bids topping $25,000 when absentee pre-bidding closed on Wednesday.

Among Leon Ford's artifacts being auctioned is the PPK bag that carried Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin's mementos. (RR Auction)

The live auction, which takes place Thursday both online and at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Boston starting at 1:00 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT), will pick up on Aldrin's PPK with a bid of $28,204.

Other exceptional artifacts include a life support backpack strap worn by Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad on the moon's surface, selling for more than $36,000; a U.S. flag from Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden's spacesuit, with bids already above $20,000; and a drawing depicting NASA's Mercury and Gemini spacecraft autographed by all of the astronauts who flew on the capsules, at $25,000.

"Since 2012, when Congress passed the law giving [the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts] ownership of the artifacts [they] took home with them, the prices have been going up on astronaut-certified items," Livingston stated. "Leon Ford had some astronaut-certified items that have never before been offered publicly."

Ford's archives also held memorabilia from the collections of those who worked the missions from the ground. The sale includes the access badge that Flight Director Gene Kranz wore during the 1966 Gemini 12 mission, as well as the gag gifts presented to Pad Leader Guenter Wendt by the Apollo 11 crew.

Just before launching to become the first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong surprised Wendt atop the launch pad with a card promising a "free ride" on a "space taxi" to "any planet, moon, star, or galaxy in the solar system." Similarly, Aldrin gifted Wendt with a "Good News" modern version of the New Testament dedicated in memory of his mother, Marion Moon, and Michael Collins offered Wendt a "Trophy Trout" mounted to a plaque.

Space Taxi card that Neil Armstrong presented to Guenter Wendt on the launch pad before launching to the moon. (RR Auction)

The three unique mementos are being offered individually, with bids opening at the live sale topping $4,000, $1,200 and $5,400 respectively.

"The opportunity for collectors to get that one item they need — that one item from a flown Apollo mission, or that one autograph they don't have — from Leon's collection, what an amazing opportunity," said David Meerman Scott, co-author of the book "Marketing the Moon."

Collectors are not alone in benefiting from the auction. The sale also supports the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, the non-profit organization founded by the original Mercury astronauts.

RR Auction organized a VIP fundraiser on Wednesday to benefit the foundation by raising funds for a scholarship to be awarded to a student excelling in science at Louisiana State University, Ford's alma mater.

"As a great friend to the foundation and space community, Leon Ford's loss is still felt today," the organization wrote on its website. "The ASF continues to be touched by his generosity and friendship."

For more information or to bid, see RR Auction's website.

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NASA Collection of Leon Ford

Video credit: RR Auction

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