Items of space memorabilia are collectible objects with a direct connection to spaceflight missions, moon landings, astronauts, rockets, space shuttles and other related vehicles such as lunar rovers and satellites.
They can also be naturally occurring objects such as meteors or pieces of moon dust and rock that have fallen to Earth or been collected during lunar missions.
Space memorabilia collectors often focus their collection on a specific area.
The most valuable items of space memorabilia are those connected with the Apollo moon landings and ‘flown items’, objects that have been flown into space and back during missions.
The most valuable autographs are those of astronauts who have stood on the surface of the Moon such as Neil Armstrong, Alan Shepard or Harrison Schmitt.
Many items of space memorabilia come from the private collections of astronauts or those involved with specific missions such as NASA operatives.
Other items such as mechanical parts appear on the market when space agencies decide to sell surplus items that are no longer useful. These items are often sold with paperwork, which provides clear provenance and aids in authentication.
The history of space memorabilia begins with Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite launched into space by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957. From this day forward the ‘Space Race’ between the American and Soviet governments was on, with both nations determined to be the first to explore and utilise space.
The U.S quickly followed up Sputnik with the launch of their own satellite, Explorer 1, on February 1 1958 and in July that year US Congress passed legislation turning the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) with responsibility for the nation's civilian space programs. NASA soon announced the names of seven test pilots it planned to send into space and were immediately deluged with requests for the autographs of these seven ‘Mercury’ astronauts, to the point where they were forced to employ an autopen machine to provide the signatures.
The Soviets took the lead again on April 12, 1961 when Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, making a single orbit of Earth aboard Vostok 1 before returning home. The alarming rate at which the Russian project was evolving led President John F. Kennedy to announce on May 25 1961 that the Americans planned to land a man on the Moon by the year 1970.
First American in space
Alan B. Shepard became the first American in space when he made a 15 minute suborbital flight on May 5, 1961. Gus Grissom, the second American to fly in space, took with him several miniature Mercury capsules and coins which he then gave as gifts to his friends and family upon his return. These items of ‘flown’ memorabilia are now highly sought-after by collectors. On February 20, 1962 John Glenn, in the Mercury spacecraft Friendship 7, became the first American to actually orbit the Earth and the third American to fly in space. By May 1963 three further American space flights had been made. [[include wiki:image
|caption=The Apollo 11 navigation chart]]
The Soviet Union continued to achieve a series of ‘firsts’; in 1963 Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman is space, and in 1965 Alexei Leonov made the first spacewalk when he left the Voskhod 2 spacecraft on March 8, 1965. The U.S countered with their Project Gemini missions, which saw pioneering long-duration space flights, the docking of two separate spacecraft and the use of extra-vehicular activity to do work outside a spacecraft.
In 1965, whilst preparing for his second mission, astronaut Gordon Cooper came up with the idea of taking embroidered crew patches featuring different designs on missions to be used as souvenirs, and they were used on every mission from that day. Many were used in presentations or as gifts to mission control crew, and the few that have made their way onto the market are popular collectors’ items.
On July 20, 1969 Apollo 11 successfully landed on the Moon and Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on its surface, soon followed by Buzz Aldrin whilst command module pilot Michael Collins remained in lunar orbit. Flown items and memorabilia connected to the Apollo 11 mission are the most valuable of all space memorabilia, and Armstrong’s autograph is considered to be the world’s most valuable living signature.
Between 1969 and 1972 there were a further six moon missions (including the aborted Apollo 13 mission), and in all a total of 12 men walked on the Moon. During these missions astronauts were allowed to carry Personal Preference Kits known as PPKs, which contained personal items such as badges, coins, medals, flags, [stamps and postal covers intended only for private use or as personal gifts after the flight. Many of these items have since appeared on the collectors’ market.
Apollo 15 'stamp scandal'
However, in 1971 the astronauts of the Apollo 15 mission - David Scott, Alfred Worden and James Irwin – were discovered to have taken with them 398 unauthorised postal covers which made their way onto the philately market later that year after they had returned to Earth. The apparent use of these items for commercial and financial gain caused a scandal, and from that point on all manned flights carried a small official flight kit containing approved items only.
On July 17 1975 the Space Race was officially ended as craft from American and Soviet missions docked and the two crews exchanged visits. The following years saw the development of the American Space Shuttle project, and the first test flight of the shuttle Columbia was launched on April 12 1981. On its return it was discovered that a few hundred of its protective thermal tiles had been damaged on re-entry, and these tiles were then packaged and given as gifts to members of the mission crew.
Then in 1983 NASA, in conjunction with the U.S postal service, flew 260,000 postal covers into space and back which were then offered for sale to the public at $15.35 each.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led a large amount of material from their space program to enter into private hands, and many valuable early flown items and important documents have since appeared at auctions around the world.
Today the market for space memorabilia is worth millions of dollars each year, with major auction houses such as Bonhams holding regular dedicated sales.
Types of space memorabilia
Main article: List of types of space memorabilia
Main article: List of space memorabilia collecting terms
The world’s most expensive piece of space memorabilia
The world’s most expensive piece of space memorabilia is the navigational chart used by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, just after their landing on the Moon, to determine their exact position on the lunar surface. The chart, signed by Aldrin, was sold by Bonham’s in New York in 2009 for a world record price of $218,000.
Other notable items of space memorabilia
Main article: List of notable items of space memorabilia
Notable space memorabilia collections and collectors
Space memorabilia dealers
Main article: List of space memorabilia dealers
Clubs and societies
The bookmarklet lets you save things you find to your collections.
Note: Make sure your bookmarks are visible.
Click and drag the Collect It button to your browser's Bookmark Bar.