Bonhams New York Annual Space History Sale May 5

. April 22, 2011 . 0 Comments

American Race Into Space Celebrated At Bonhams New York Auction On The 50th Anniversary Of Alan Shepard’s First Space-Flight

Bonhams New York annual Space History sale takes place on Thursday May 5 at its saleroom on Madison Avenue, and features 250 lots that chronicle the Space Race, space exploration and the American missions to the moon.

Notably, the auction takes place 50 years to the day that Alan Shepard became the first American to travel into space, and the sale contains a number of exceptional items from the American side of the Space Race, along with a number of Soviet artifacts.

Matthew Haley, Bonhams Space History Specialist says: “Bonhams’ annual Space History Sale is on the radar of a growing number of collectors, and it’s an exciting time of the year. With the notable anniversaries of Soviet and American first flights into space, we’re delighted that our sale not only honors both sides of the race into space, but pays particular attention to America’s final victory, and the struggles and sacrifices made in the pursuit of the moon.”

On April 12 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space – however, the United States sent the first chimpanzee out into space over two months earlier, on January 1961. His name was ‘Ham’, named after the Holloman Aerospace Medical center in New Mexico where he was reared. On the flight that took the chimp 157 miles into space, Ham pushed one lever over 50 times during the flight. After his flight, he retired first to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and then to a North Carolina zoo – and he passed away in 1983. Consigned by the airman who looked after him at the center, Ham’s space-flown neck-tag provides a poignant reminder of the perils and risks of space flights, and it is estimated at $2,000-4,000.

A few weeks after Gagarin’s flight, the American astronaut Alan Shepard flew 116 miles into space aboard Freedom 7 on May 5 1961 and the mission marked the beginning of manned U.S. space exploration. The Fédération Aeronautique Internationale certificate chronicling this milestone, and signed by Shepard himself, is being offered in the sale with an estimate of $8,000-12,000. Interestingly the FAI decreed that to qualify for the world record first space-flight that the Soviets claimed, the pilot had to take-off and land in the same vehicle. Gagarin did not (he ejected from Vostok 1 four miles above the Earth), but this was covered up till 1971, and by that time the Soviet record had been popularly accepted.

John F. Kennedy famously set the United States on course for its moon missions in 1961 and in February that year appointed James E. Webb as NASA administrator. Over 30 lots from the Estate of James Webb feature in the sale, including a letter from the President encouraging Webb to continue to collect press clippings regarding the Russian’s interest in getting to the moon (est. $1,500-2,000).

In the late 1960s, the Apollo program signaled the successful culmination of a decade’s hard work, and the Bonhams auction features two truly remarkable moon-landed Apollo lots, consigned directly by Apollo astronauts themselves.

Firstly, the sale features a Data Acquisition Camera (DAC) that filmed the descent to the moon’s surface from the Apollo 14 lunar module, consigned by the Apollo 14 Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell (est. $60,000-80,000). Mitchell was the sixth man to walk on the moon, and the film taken during the descent has been widely published. Most lunar module DACs were left on the surface on the moon due to weight restrictions, and the only other lunar surface DAC here on Earth currently resides at the Smithsonian Institution.

Secondly, a stopwatch utilized by Apollo 15 Commander David Scott is also offered (est. $120,000-180,000). Dave Scott was the seventh moonwalker, and the first person to drive on the moon, and the stopwatch is consigned directly from his personal collection. Used to time engine burns among other tasks, the stopwatch was manufactured by Bulova and there is no other stopwatch from the moon’s surface to come to market.

An illustrated auction catalogue for the Space History Sale will be available online in the weeks preceding the sale at

New York Preview: April 30 – May 5, 2011
Auction: May 5, 2011, New York

Category: Auction News

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