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:

Lunar Rover Map, Apollo 17

The last men to walk on the moon used this map in the lunar rover to find something nobody was expecting: patches of orange soil among the dark gray dust of crater Shorty. (The orange was vivid enough that even pilot Ron Evans could see it from the orbiting Command Module.) In the mission transcript, an incredulous Commander Gene Cernan asks, “How can there be orange soil on the moon?” Answer: Shorty is an impact crater, and the impact uncovered a layer of volcanic glass. Luckily, the mission included Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, the only geologist to be sent to the moon. He reacted to the discovery “like a boy at Christmas,” recalled CAPCOM Robert Parker. The map belongs to Jim Ruddy, who runs the website Moon Collector.

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