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  NASA Watch insults space collectors, again

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Author Topic:   NASA Watch insults space collectors, again
Robert Pearlman

Posts: 27327
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 02-21-2005 04:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
On NASA Watch, editor Keith Cowing wrote:
This Belongs in a Museum

NASA Sale of Surplus Property: Sale of Flown Shuttle Tires, Main Landing Gear

"Bid opening is March 15, 2005, at 2:00 pm local time. A copy of the Invitation for Bid may be obtained from the Internet at: or call 321-867-2287 and ask for Sale Number 804200-2005-0008."

Editor's note: I have to think that there is a museum - perhaps a small one - somewhere in the United States where such a piece of space flown hardware would receive a special place of honor. Selling this item as surplus runs the risk that it might end up inside a plastic bag in some collector's garage.

This is not the first time that Cowing has used his comments to imply that all collectors are hoarding pack rats. Sadly, he is under the mistaken notion that museums - all museums - would service space artifacts better than all collectors, when there are plenty of examples and reasons why the opposite would be true.

I have no objection with him suggesting that museums should jump at this opportunity to acquire flown tires - in fact, I'm fairly certain there are museums that are doing just that - but to dump on the collector at the same time is uncalled for and demonstrates a lack of understanding and respect for the thousands who participate in this hobby worldwide.

(For further on the auction and not this particular article, see this thread in Hardware & Flown Items.)


Posts: 3093
From: San Diego
Registered: Feb 2002

posted 02-21-2005 05:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
As part of my work for the Science Center, I receive itemized lists from NASA of all kinds of surplus items - flown and unflown - that NASA is looking to donate to museums. Believe me, not even the smallest items (lens caps, etc.) are overlooked for itemizing. Over the years, this list has included dozens of these flown tires. I am guessing that only so many of them can be used by the museum community before they end up at auction.

Cowing seems not to know, and the smallest amount of responsible journalism would have revealed to him, that NASA makes every effort to have these items acquired by the museum community BEFORE they go to auction - often after having been in storage and available to museums for YEARS. For example, they are still offering us training items from the Skylab program that they have not auctioned yet.


Larry McGlynn

Posts: 805
From: Boston, MA
Registered: Jul 2003

posted 02-21-2005 05:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Larry McGlynn   Click Here to Email Larry McGlynn     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote

I have posted before on this subject. Although Mr. Cowing maybe a very intelligent individual on subjects devoted to space, he appears to be ignorant of the space collector’s motives in obtaining space memorabilia. I challenge him to view the work done by collectors to protect and restore space artifacts. I also challenge him to meet me at the basement of the NASM to see what is lying there slowly deteriorating away.

I wrote the post listed below in response to his prior collector bashing. It is probably a good time to post it again.

“As a collector of flown space artifacts as well as a collector of maritime artifacts, I tend to disagree with Mr. Cowing.

The owner of any object received as a gift has the right to do with it as he pleases. I guess it could be called the American Way or Capitalism at it’s best. I do agree though that the sale of a presentation artifact given to you as a gift is tacky. It’s still the owner’s choice as it is Mr. Cowing’s choice to disagree with the sale of that item.

I also disagree with Mr. Cowing about the matter of whether the astronauts should sell flown artifacts to the general public instead of gifting them to museums or educational institutions. My main reason for disagreement is from what I have seen in various maritime, space, aviation and science museums. I have been inside their vaults and they have one thing in common and that is a fair amount of excess material that will never see the light of day. Now I admit there maybe a few exceptions, but in general, this is true.

As an example, it broke my heart to find Chesley Bonestell’s mural of the lunar surface that hung at the Boston Museum of Science during the 1960’s had been ripped off the museum’s wall, transferred to the NASM and is currently deteriorating in a storage area. I have been told the mural cannot be restored.

Based upon my research either on site or via the web, most of these artifacts are already duplicated in the major air and space museums here in this country. A tour of the NASM facilities and the their website, as an example, will show many of the items sold over the years to have duplicates at the museum. So where will the excess artifacts go?

There is only so much display space that a museum has, so why not allow items that were planned for disposal by NASA be sold?

The argument of preventing the private sale of space artifacts reminds me of the marine archeologist’s argument against the private salvaging marine artifacts from wrecks such as the Titanic, Andrea Doria or other countless shipwrecks in the oceans of the world.

Marine Archaeologists rail against the private or commercial salvage of any shipwreck as a loss to the public of valuable historical items. Unfortunately, by the time, archeologists get the time and money to document these wrecks they will be gone. The example of the private salvage of the Andrea Doria artifacts brings history and substance to an event that is slowly fading with each new generation.

Professional archaeologists have yet to visit the site of the Andrea Doria. The ship is quickly turning into a “whaleback” as the superstructure collapsed after fifty years of chemical and mechanical weathering on the wreck. This is just one minor example. I could quote many major ones if time were to permit.

Mr. Cowing has publically stated his distaste toward the private sale of space artifacts by the astronauts. Should they be given over to museums? Will the museums restore and display them for the public? Does the astronaut have the right to sell these items? Since I have talked about what I have seen in the bowels of museums, I feel I have already answered the aforementioned questions.

So let’s talk about the astronauts and their sales of their private collections.

During a meeting in 2000, NASA, the NASM, the OIG and high-ranking officials from other space and aviation museums met to discuss the matter of the private sale of space artifacts by astronauts. Their own conclusion was that with the exception of spacesuits and stolen items, the sale of items deemed disposable by NASA was all right.

Such items were artifacts that would have been left on the surface of the moon at the time of LM liftoff or presentation material. Examples such as personal items from the astronaut’s PPK bag, maps, charts, checklists, PLSS fragments, medallions and flags were sited as allowable for sale.

Astronauts have made personal decisions concerning their collections of material. Some have donated their entire collection to a particular museum, some of sold or given away everything and some have done a combination of both practices. The astronauts shouldn’t be faulted for attempting to cash in on the current market for space artifacts. The market is there and has been pretty good for the astronauts since the big boom of 1999.

Which leads us to the collectors.

Are collectors demons for buying the private material and do they hoard it away from the public? Are collectors the last stop before the artifact deteriorates to dust? Do collectors help keep artifacts in the public eye that may lie buried in a museum vault or astronaut’s basement?

While museums tend to store much excess material, collectors with the help of the Internet have begun to display more of the artifacts that may be left hidden from public view in a museum or astronaut’s home.

I, for an example, have begun to restore, create provenance and display both on the Internet and in my home many pieces of my space artifact collection. There are many other excellent examples of artifact display on the Internet.

I use many of the artifacts during lectures on the race to the moon in various local schools. By allowing the school kids to touch and hold artifacts that touched the lunar surface, they get a much better understanding of exactly just what this country accomplished during the Apollo missions.

My home has become a museum in itself. It is many a time that people will get the “nickel tour” of the house. So people are getting the chance in many instances to see, touch and hold artifacts that would be sealed under glass or possibly stored away from view.

As for restoration and protection, I, as well as many other collectors have been working hard to restore, protect or save artifacts from deterioration and destruction. Whether it has been the archival sealing of an artifact in UV protected neutral Mylar or completely restoring a famous painting that was allowed to sit in a garage for 20 years, we collectors have been working to maintain our artifacts for the long term. Which is good, because most of these items have been sitting in a basement, garage or storage facility for 35 years or more.

As for a loss to the museums, many collectors offer their collections on loan to any museum. I know of three examples where collectors have either offered to donate their collections or loan their collections to a local museum. The effort has been met with mixed results. Only one such offer was accepted, but after much effort by the collector. This collector’s story is in the Collectspace reference archives.

There is one space artifact collector, who has started his own museums for space artifacts and rare manuscripts. He maintains seven such manuscript libraries in California, New York, Washington DC and South Carolina all at his own expense.

The future holds much promise for the space collecting market. I also believe that several of these artifact collections are destined for museums in the short-term future upon the death of the collector as gifts and donations. In the long term (100 plus years), many of these artifacts will find their way to museums and institutions as many rare books have done since the dawn of the printed page.

How many of these rare items would be thrown out or cast aside by succeeding generations, if not for their purchase by interested collectors? The space artifact collector has been a boon to the preservation and maintenance of these artifacts and will continue to be in the future.”

As you can see, Mr. Cowing, collectors of space artifacts do have a place in this world as do collectors of art, rare books and many other pieces of historic nature and value.

As an amateur space historian, I find Mr. Cowing’s comments remind me of JFK’s science advisor Dr. Jerome Weisner and his negative comments about the manned space program in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

We now know how out of touch Dr. Weisner was with the future of manned space travel. Maybe it is time for Mr. Cowing to get in step with the times and find out what collectors really do with these valuable artifacts.

Lawrence L. McGlynn
A Tribute to Apollo


Posts: 1488
From: Brimfield, MA
Registered: Mar 2002

posted 02-21-2005 06:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ejectr   Click Here to Email ejectr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
You guys are preaching to the choir....

You ought to be emailing this to Cowing!


Posts: 93
From: Saginaw, MI USA
Registered: Feb 2004

posted 02-22-2005 05:26 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for sfurtaw   Click Here to Email sfurtaw     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Originally posted by FFrench:
As part of my work for the Science Center, I receive itemized lists from NASA of all kinds of surplus items - flown and unflown - that NASA is looking to donate to museums...
Could you either post here or contact me via email and tell me how one can receive itemized lists of surplus items? I try to help out the director of Michigan's Own, Military & Space Museum in nearby Frankenmuth, Michigan whenever I can (especially regarding anything internet related). The museum doesn't have many items outside of those donated by Michigan's astronauts and small enough to fit into their showcases. Your experience surprises me... probably about 30 years ago the museum acquired a Gemini from some Air Force warehouse (if memory serves me), where it was just one of many. About five years ago the Air Force reacquired the suit from the museum without explanation. Maybe this is just a difference between the Air Force and NASA, but it did leave a whole in the space exhibit room.

Thanks for any help,

Scott Furtaw
In Memoriam: The Astronaut/Cosmonaut Memorial Web Site


Posts: 3093
From: San Diego
Registered: Feb 2002

posted 02-22-2005 12:20 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Sure, Scott - if you'd like to E-mail offlist, I'd be happy to send you the connection (your online info. doesn't seem to include an E-mail contact). I should mention, the Smithsonian quite understandably has first pick of the items that come up, and so the most impressive stuff tends to go to them.

New Member


posted 02-24-2005 03:04 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lightyear   Click Here to Email Lightyear     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Perhaps each of the 51 Challenger Learning Centers would benefit from receiving a tire each.

All times are CT (US)

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