History for Sale in Annual Space Auction

NEW YORK -- At an annual auction of historical space artifacts at Bonhams auction house in New York today, over 290 lots were for sale to the highest bidder.

The sale contains objects and ephemera from memorable NASA space flight programs including Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, and the space shuttle, including a patch and pin from the first moon landing.

An Apollo 11 flight plan sheet signed and inscribed by Neil Armstrong, "One small step for a man -- one giant leap for mankind" sold for $152,000 to an unidentified American bidder. Given to NASA press officer John McLeaish by Neil Armstrong while both were in quarantine after the trip, the item was estimated to sell for between $60,000 and $80,000.

An Apollo 11 mission patch that was flown to the moon and signed by all three Apollo 11 astronauts sold for $85,000 -- well above estimates of $40,000 to $60,000.

The auction takes place forty years to the day of the oxygen tank explosion aboard Apollo 11 that led to the famous radio message, "Houston, we've had a problem." Speaking of which, the emergency checklist list from that flight -- used and marked after the explosion by the Apollo 13 crew on April 13, 1970 -- was offered in the sale.

During the emergency, the crew had to stabilize and re-align their spacecraft while saving enough power and oxygen to survive the long voyage back home. Their survival and safe return to earth is one of the most celebrated triumphs of American 20th century space flight. That checklist sold for $45,750.

Another big-ticket item on offer is a diamond and gold pin that was given to NASA director of flight crew operations Deke Slayton by the widows of the three astronauts who died in the Apollo 1 fire. The late astronauts had planned to give the pin to Slayton themselves, but never got the chance. Later, Slayton lent the pin to astronaut Neil Armstrong, who took it to the moon with him during the Apollo 11 mission. This item could sell for $80,000 to $120,000.

"We're proud to continue this annual New York auction of space history," said Matthew Haley, Bonhams specialist. "The auction features items that hark back to the first golden age of space exploration, when man sought to reach the moon, along with lots that celebrate what came before and after these monumental trips to the lunar surface."

Tuesday's auction is actually one of three this week selling off prized items of American space history.

On Friday, Regency-Superior Galleries will kick off a two-day auction of space and aviation stamps and other memorabilia. On Saturday, the Ira & Goldberg Auctioneers will launch a one-day auction of space memorabilia and manuscripts. Both auctions will be held in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Space.com contributed to this report.