NEW YORK — A vintage Russian spacesuit worn during historic Cold War-era spaceflight by a Soviet cosmonaut sold for $242,000 yesterday (May 5), making it the most expensive prize in an auction to mark 50 years of American spaceflight.
The spacesuit and more than 200 other mementos from the first 50 years of human spaceflight were auctioned by Bonhams on the 50th anniversary of NASA's Freedom 7 mission, the first American spaceflight, which launched astronaut Alan Shepard into space in 1961. [Photos:America's 1st Human Spaceflight]
The auction was based at Bonhams' Manhattan showroom and offered up a dazzling menu of items from the poignant to the quirky, all with a compelling space story behind them. Buyers online and on the phone also took part.
The top seller of the day was the spacesuit worn by cosmonaut Alexei Leonov during the historic 1975 Apollo Soyuz Test Project, a mission that marked a symbolic end to the space race.
After some heated competition, the iconic space get-up sold for a cool $242,000 to a North American buyer, said Matthew Haley, Bonhams' space history expert. [Video: Flashback to America's First Spaceflight]
But it was a single-typed sheet of paper, marked with hurried scrawls of red and black ink, that sparked one of the most aggressive bidding wars of the day, Haley said.
"It was a great battle — really exciting," Haley told Space.com.
The object of buyers' lust was a small page of contingency steps from the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, marked over with revisions by astronauts James Lovell and Fred Haise as the two men struggled to adjust the lunar module's engine burn and bring their faltering craft safely back to Earth.
It sold for a hefty $111,000.
"We were pretty taken aback," Haley said. The document was expected to make about $30,000.
A brass tag worn by Ham the astrochimp on his historic Jan. 31, 1961, spaceflight — which preceded the first human spaceflight by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin by several months — sold for a jaw-dropping $12,000, three to six times the Bonhams estimate. [Photos: Yuri Gagarin, First Man in Space]
"But as the auctioneer said, 'You're not going to find another one of these,'" Haley said with a laugh.
Indeed, although humans are poised to return to space any day now, it's unlikely chimps will ever travel there again.
Haley said the items from the estate of James Webb, NASA administrator during the 1960s, sold well to eager buyers, including several letters from President John F. Kennedy.