7 Things You (Probably) Didn't Know About Space Memorabilia



2015-08-03 14:04:55

Lightsabers, Snoopy and Neil Armstrong's secret stash – here are 7 things you (probably) didn't known about space memorabilia

Astronauts couldn't afford life insurance

(Image: Moonpans.com)

In 1969 the average astronaut wage was $20,000 (around $125,000 in today's money), not a huge amount for someone who gets blasted into space for a living. And when your job involves sitting on top of that much rocket fuel, it's not surprising that life insurance premiums were sky high too.

None of the Apollo 11 crew could afford life insurance, because there was a very good chance they weren't coming home. So they hatched a plot to provide for their families in the worst case scenario: autographs.

Between them, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins signed hundreds and hundreds of postal covers in the lead-up to the launch, then gave most of them to a trusted friend to remain on Earth. These covers were then cancelled at the post office on important dates, such as the launch of Apollo 11 or the day the crew walked on the moon. Armstrong and co. knew these would be worth a fortune and could be sold by their families if they never made it home.

Thankfully they returned safely to Earth, and ever since many of these insurance covers have sold at auction with prices of up to $30,000. The Apollo 11 crew also brought back a few hundred far rarer 'space-flown' covers they had taken with them on the mission. A few of these have also surfaced on the market, sometimes selling for more than $45,000, but as yet none belonging to Armstrong himself have ever seen the light of day.  

Buzz Aldrin is the second-most famous Buzz in space

(Image: NASA)

Buzz Lightyear's motto was "Infinity and beyond!", but in 2008 he had to make do with the International Space Station instead.
In 2008 one of the famous Toy Story toys was blasted off into space for a year-long stay on ISS. During his adventure Buzz kept the astronauts company and participated in experiments, along with featuring in educational online games created by Disney and NASA to help engage kids with space travel.

He may not have caught up with Emperor Zurg while he was up there, but he did find a prestigious new home when he returned 450 days later – The Smithsonian. In March 2012 the space-flown toy was donated to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C by Pixar founder and animator John Lassiter. He's now on permanent display in the museum's Moving Beyond Earth exhibition.

In space, no one can hear you make lightsaber noises

(Image: NASA)

Disney toys aren't the only strange thing NASA flies into space - they're happy for Jedi weapons to hitch a ride as well.
In 2007, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Lucasfilm gave the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery a very special cargo: the lightsaber originally wielded by Mark Hamill in Return of the Jedi, in his final confrontation with Darth Vader.

It was presented to NASA by Chewbacca himself at a ceremony in Oakland, California, and set off for the ISS as part of mission STS-120. Although it didn't quite reach a galaxy far, far away it did spend 14 days in orbit and clock in an impressive round trip of 6 million miles before returning to Earth and the Lucasfilm vaults. Whether the astronauts secretly played with it or not remains unknown. 

"There's a kind of a fine line between science fiction and reality as far as what we do and it's only just time really because a lot of what we're doing right now was science fiction when I was growing up," said astronaut Jim Reilly. "I think it's a neat link because it combines two space themes all at one time."

Space collectors sometimes need submarines

(Image: Bezos Expeditions)

If you wanted to find the world's biggest pieces of Apollo 11 memorabilia, where would you start looking? For billionaire Jezz Bezos, the answer was simple: at the bottom of the sea.

Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, had begun his obsession with space travel as a child. "Millions of people were inspired by the Apollo Program. I was five years old when I watched Apollo 11 unfold on television, and without any doubt it was a big contributor to my passions for science, engineering, and exploration."

As an 18-year old, he gave a class speech about wanting to build colonies and amusement parks in space; in 2000 he founded Blue Origin, a commercial spaceflight company; and in March 2012 he set out to find the original F1 engines that launched the Apollo 11 mission.

Having crashed back to Earth and sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, the engines were twisted, burned and almost unrecognisable. But Bezos' expedition used underwater robots to scan the ocean floor, then raised the surviving pieces and returned them to dry land for conservation. The engine parts (which still technically belong to NASA) are currently undergoing extensive restoration at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, with future plans to display them to the public at the National Air and Space Museum. 

NASA frowns upon unauthorised in-flight philately

(Image: Wikipedia)

Following the Apollo 15 mission in 1971, there was an unlikely culprit at the heart of a national scandal: postage stamps.
Astronauts David R. Scott, Alfred M. Worden and James B. Irwin decided to give themselves a little extra financial insurance, just as the Apollo 11 crew had, by autographing some first-day covers that could be sold to collectors. They signed a deal with the German stamp dealer Hermann Sieger, and then flew 398 of the covers into space with them aboard Apollo 15.

Although he had promised to wait years before selling the space-flown covers, Sieger put them on the market immediately upon the crew's return and neither they nor NASA were happy. The crew refused any money from Sieger, and NASA claimed the crew had smuggled the unauthorised items on board, breaking Space Agency rules. The three men were called into a closed Senate hearing, in which, according to Scott, "NASA had hung us out to dry".

The government confiscated the remaining covers, which had been kept by the trio as souvenirs, and although a Justice Department concluded they had done nothing illegal their reputations were forever tarnished.  Years later they successfully sued the Government to return their confiscated covers, and today they are highly sought-after and can command high prices - with one example selling at auction in 2008 for $15,000.

Everyone at NASA wants a Snoopy badge

(Image: NASA)

Every year more than 18,000 NASA employees around the world have their sights set on one particular award, so prestigious it's given to less than 1% of the workforce each year: the Silver Snoopy.

NASA adopted Charles Schulz's comic-strip creation as its 'watchdog' for flight safety in the wake of the 1967 Apollo 1 disaster, which saw three astronauts killed in a cabin fire during a prelaunch test. The famous beagle had always dreamt of flying, but now instead of battling the Red Baron he was heading out of this world.

Starting in 1968, silver Snoopy pins were taken into space by astronauts, who then presented the space-flown beagle badges as awards to employees and contractors for "outstanding achievements related to human flight safety or mission success". The ceremony continues to this day, and the Snoopy pin remains the highest honour a member of the ground crew can achieve.

Even Neil Armstrong "borrowed" stuff from work

(Image: National Air and Space Museum)

First man on the moon Neil Armstrong (1930-2012) was a famously private character, shunning the limelight almost immediately after returning to Earth. He resigned from NASA in 1971 and took up a teaching position, along with serving on the boards of a variety of companies. To date his Apollo 11 insurance covers (see #1) remain unsold, and he famously stopped signing autographs in 1994 to prevent people profiting from his name.

So many people were surprised in 2015 when his widow discovered Armstrong's secret stash of lunar mementos, including items he strictly speaking wasn't supposed to bring home. She discovered a bag containing items such as an optical alignment sight, a waist tether, an emergency wrench and a power cable from the lunar module, along with the very camera which had captured his first steps onto the moon's surface.

It seems Armstrong had kept a few items for his own collection, and had managed to smuggle them back to Earth without anyone asking questions (like "What's in the bag Neil?"). He then kept the items secret for over 45 years, never showing them to even his closest family members, and the surprising discovery was described as being of "priceless historic value".

These items 'borrowed' from NASA have now been loaned by Armstrong's family to the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington D.C.

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