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In-flight instructions used by first American in orbit John Glenn heads to auction

The in-flight instructions used by John Glenn aboard Friendship 7 in 1962 is being auctioned. (Nate D Sanders/NASA / collectSPACE)
July 13, 2016

— A scrolling checklist used by John Glenn as he became the first American to orbit the Earth is now circling the auction block.

The long and narrow document, which Glenn used aboard his Mercury spacecraft "Friendship 7," helped to track the space capsule's position and the astronaut's planned flight activities as he rounded the Earth three times on Feb. 20, 1962. The in-flight instructions detailed when Glenn was to photograph the planet below and when to complete certain tasks, such as changing the film and filter on his camera.

"All data on the instructions was personally used by Glenn to confirm the capsule's flight path during its 4 hour and 55 minute mission," the Nate D. Sanders auction house wrote in its description of the lot.

The 42.5-inch-long (108 cm) document was attached to a bobbin at each end, forming a scroll that Glenn was able to advance back and forth with his thumb during the mission. The chronological plan includes astronomical markers and geographical landmarks, such as "Lake Victoria" and "+23' Orion & Moon/UV Photos Count Stars."

Still frame of the 'Friendship 7' cockpit with the scroll visible at the center of photo, in front of John Glenn. (Nate D Sanders/NASA)

Bidding on the flown Mercury-Atlas 6 mission artifact ends on July 21. The minimum bid is set at $25,000.

According to the auction firm, the document was originally gifted by Glenn to Richard "Dick" Dunham, a Navy UDT-21 frogman who helped in Glenn's recovery after he splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean.

"The flight plan was then given to U.S. Navy veteran Justin Pollard by Dunham, who became [Pollard's] mentor during [his] time in the Navy," the auctioneer wrote.

Prior to it being offered for sale, the document was lent for three years to the San Diego Air and Space Museum for exhibition and its historical significance was confirmed by the John Glenn Archives at Ohio State University Libraries.

Very few artifacts flown on Friendship 7 have been sold in the 54 years since the historic mission, and of those, most have been limited to dollar bills launched on the flight as mementos and acrylic-encased samples of heat shield.

John Glenn's "Friendship 7" Mercury spacecraft as seen on exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum. (collectSPACE)

The mostly-complete spacecraft is exhibited today by the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, as part of its newly-renovated Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall.

Other than the flight plan, the capsule's hand controller is also absent, having been gifted to Glenn after his return to Earth. It is now part of Glenn's archives at the Ohio State University, along with the failed thruster that forced him to use the controller during his third orbit of the Earth.

The Sanders sale of the instructions, which by coincidence overlaps Glenn's 95th birthday on Monday (July 18), also comes within a week of two other space-themed auctions.

On Saturday (July 16), memorabilia dealer Lunar Legacies will hold an online auction offering more than 700 artifacts and collectibles. The catalog includes several examples of Glenn's autograph, as well a flight plan from the first moon landing, Apollo 11, launched 47 years ago that same day.

Apollo 11 navigational chart used minutes before Mission Control gave the crew the "go" to land on the moon's surface. (Bonhams)

Four days later on July 20, Bonhams in New York City will offer nearly 300 lots at its annual Space History Sale. The auction, which coincides with the 47th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's and Buzz Aldrin's historic moonwalk, includes a chart used by the astronauts to map their flight path as they prepared to descend to the lunar surface.

Other highlights at Bonhams' sale include a full-scale test model of Sputnik, the world's first artificial satellite, and a Russian spacesuit worn by NASA astronaut Don Pettit to launch and return from the International Space Station.

The U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame will also host a silent auction, including space memorabilia, as part of this year's induction ceremony at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama on Saturday. An online component of the sale is now open on eBay. All proceeds from the Hall of Fame's auction will go to sending kids to Space Camp.

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