Space $ouvenirs

Collectors compete for artifacts from the Apollo program.

An x-ray of the boots Neil Armstrong wore on the moon, taken before the launch of Apollo 11, is now in private hands. (Courtesy Steve Jurvetson)
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Neil Armstrong is dead, but you can buy his breath on eBay. For the price of a used car, you can own five tiny bottles of water drained from the returning modules of Apollo 11 and 12, including one of condensation from astronauts’ exhalations. It’s the one marked “Waste Tank.”

Now, anyone with money to spend and an Internet connection can join the ranks of collectors of early space program artifacts. Robert Pearlman’s website collectSPACE is especially useful, keeping tabs on what’s for sale where and helping ferret out frauds on auction house websites. You can ask fellow collectors/historians for guidance, and hear from those who used­—or made—your object.

The same Internet that makes it easier to acquire rare objects also enables longtime collectors to share their treasures with the public, in digital closeup. A thorny legal question—Can you own bits of spacecraft NASA never formally de-accessioned?—has been resolved by a 2012 law in which Congress, perhaps reluctant to increase NASA’s legal budget, allowed Apollo-era astronauts to sell objects they kept as mementos.

The way the market has exploded frustrates longtime collectors like Richard Jurek, co-author (with fellow Apollo ephemera pack rat David Meerman Scott) of the book Marketing the Moon, and the proprietor of the website Jefferson Space Museum (jeffersonspacemuseum.com), where he shows off his collection of space-flown $2 bills. In the two decades he’s been chasing Apollo artifacts, he’s seen prices jump into the stratosphere.

But perhaps there’s an upside: More money means more attention, more objects getting dug out of basements and examined seriously, more research, and more history collected. To wit:

Hasselblad Camera, Mercury-Atlas 8 and 9

Mercury 8’s Wally Schirra, the only astronaut to fly Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions, allegedly bought this 500C off the shelf from a camera shop in Houston before bringing it aboard Mercury 8 and making it the first professional-grade camera in space. According to his notes, Gordon Cooper brought a camera on Mercury 9 that had flown on Mercury 8. RR Auctions, which handled the sale of the camera last year, confirmed that its Zeiss lens flew on both missions, and the film magazine flew on Mercury 9; it certified that the camera body had flown on Mercury 8 but was unwilling to claim it had been along on Mercury 9 too. “Used by me to obtain a number of good shots,” Cooper wrote for authentication—on his Mickey Mouse stationery. Hasselblads flew on every Apollo mission and on every space shuttle mission.

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