Bonhams auctioning Mercury space suit and other astro-memorabilia
By David Szondy
April 8, 2014
If you've ever wanted to own a space suit from the NASA Mercury project, or maybe a pack of gum that went to the Moon, here’s your chance. On Tuesday, Bonhams auction house is selling a bumper crop of space exploration artifacts as part of its sixth annual Space History Sale in New York. The auction will see 296 lots of memorabilia from the US and Soviet space programs go on the block, including a Mercury-era space suit.
Timed to mark the 50th anniversary of NASA’s Project Gemini, whose first unmanned test flight took place on April 8, 1964, the sale includes vintage telescopes, including what may be the only pneumatic-drive telescope still in existence, hardware both flown into space and used for mission training on the ground, flags, medallions, mission patches, and stamps flown on Gemini and Apollo missions, as well as Soviet and American space suits, Soviet survival gear, historic items autographed by astronauts and cosmonauts, a special collection of lots highlighting photography of the history of spaceflight, and even dehydrated tea and coffee from the Space Shuttle missions still in their futuristic containers.
According to Bonhams, this sale is notable for including some very rare models of spacecraft and launch vehicles made by the contractors for internal use. These include detailed models of a Vostok launcher and capsule, a Saturn IB rocket, the Little Joe booster used for unmanned tests of the Apollo spacecraft, a Mercury Atlas rocket, a Mercury Redstone, a Gemini Titan, and contractor models of a Lunar Module, the Apollo Command Service Module, and X-15 and X-30 spaceplanes. There are even models of machines that may be used on future missions, such as the Angara 5P designed to launch future manned spacecraft, a model Aeroassist reentry prototype developed in the 1980s and may one day be be adapted for Mars missions, and a Soviet hypersonic laboratory test vehicle
For those who prefer the “real deal,” there’s a Mir control panel that flew on the Soviet-era space station, a shock absorber from a couch used on the Soyuz 23 mission, and a Soviet surface-to-air missile engine. The Americans haven’t been left out either. Bonhams is selling a collection of Gemini and Apollo mission patches, including four rare Gemini patches that flew on actual missions. In addition, there are parts from a Saturn V rocket and Polaris missile, a bolt from a Mercury space capsule, a plug from the heat shield of an Apollo Command Module, as well as manuals, maps, charts, checklists, and other ephemera signed by the astronauts.
If you have an Apollo Lunar Module lying idle in your backyard, you can buy a collection of spare parts, including struts, spars, a control panel, and a swatch of the aluminized plastic insulation used to wrap the Lunar Modules to protect them on the Moon. This is a particular find because the wrapping actually used for the missions has long disintegrated to powder under decades of the harsh lunar sunshine. Speaking of dust, there’s also a strap from Apollo 12 up for auction that still contains moon dust. If you prefer something more tasty, there’s an unused packet of chewing gum that went to the Moon on Apollo 15.
If “One small step for man” is more your thing, you can get a plaster cast of a print made by the boot Buzz Aldrin wore on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission.
But the centerpiece of the sale has to be the spacesuits. These lots include a Russian emergency suit similar to those worn today on Soyuz flights to the International Space Station, a prototype of an outer covering for Apollo spacesuits used to protect against abrasion and micrometeorites, and the highlight of the sale: A Phase 2 Mercury-era spacesuit.
The Mercury suit is by no means complete. This is the silver-painted outer cover of the suit without the inner rubber pressure lining. Based on the BF Goodrich Mark IV pressure suit developed for the US Navy, this suit was designed to protect the first Mercury astronauts in the event their space capsule suddenly lost air pressure. In that situation, the suit would inflate and provide a portable environment for the astronaut to protect them until the craft could get back to Earth.
The suit up for auction is an early model with a "widow’s peak" fiberglass helmet with an aluminum sealing ring and a hinged polycarbonate visor, gloves, and mock-up boots. The fabric is aluminized nylon, though this is worn away in spots, so you can see patches of red and green, betraying its military origins.
Despite a cracked visor and the odd bit of wear and tear, Bonhams estimates that it will fetch between US$8,000 and $12,000.