The ten lots were the property of The Ross Perot Foundation, which purchased the documents from Sotheby's in 1993. Among the highlights were documents that were said to have belonged to Yuri Gagarin, including his handwritten remarks upon accepting assignment to Vostok 1 and his signed post-flight report after becoming the first human in space.
Most of the documents failed to sell. The two lots that did reach their reserve included a first edition report on the flight of Luna 3 inscribed by Sergei Korolov ($8,125 with buyer's premium) and portions of three checklists used by Alexei Leonov during flight on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project ($15,000 with buyer's premium).
Soviet Cosmonautics Rarity Collection Finds No Buyers At Sotheby's
The collection of unique rarities from the Soviet space exploration history has not found a buyer at the Sotheby's auction. The bidding was held at the New York HQ of the auction house in Manhattan on Thursday. One of the main collection's lots - Gagarin's own copy of a report he wrote the day of his flight, describing the whole mission, and featuring the first-ever description of the Earth, which he called the "blue planet," from space. Sotheby's estimated its auction value as between $500,000 and $700,000.
"This is an extraordinary document, because what he does is to write an official report about everything that happened up there, without the supervision of the Russian space team," said Marcia Malinowski, a vice president of Sotheby's New York. The report, one of only four copies made, was the star item in the 10 lots offered for sale, according to the FRE/RL radio.
"The fact that it is his very own copy of it, with a very, very big signature of Gagarin, I mean it's a very dramatic signature, shows that he was very proud to be in the situation he was in, and to have been selected," Malinowski said. "And for him to report back what had happened in space, I think, was a major moment of his career."
Other items to be auctioned included the autographed text of a speech Gagarin gave to the Soviet State Commission on Space Flight. Also included are the diaries, from 1960 to 1974, of the deputy director of the Soviet space programme, Vasily Mishin, which give valuable insight into the early days of Soviet space flight. This lot was expected to be sold for $500,000.
Ross Perot purchased the collection of papers in 1993, after they had come West following the break-up of the Soviet Union. Some come from Gagarin's widow Valentina.
The head of the Russian Federal Archive Service, Vladimir Kozlov, claimed in 2001 that a copy of the Gagarin report circulating in the West may have been stolen from a Soviet state institution.
As an official document it belonged to the state, he said. Russian archivists were allowed to examine the document, but reached no conclusion. It's not immediately clear whether that document is the same one as offered by Sotheby's.
The launching of the first human into space by the Soviet Union - a 108-minute dash around the globe by Lieut. Yuri A. Gagarin on April 12, 1961 - stunned the world, particularly the United States, which at the time was struggling to catch up in the space race, writes the New York Times. Shortly after the Soviet success, President Kennedy, under enormous pressure to outdo the Communists, announced a bold plan to land Americans on the Moon by the end of the decade.