A mockup of a 1960s space capsule that was used by NASA for ground tests has sold at auction for more than $50,000 — parking fees not included.
The 9.5-foot-tall (3-meter) Gemini spacecraft, which was part of RR Auction's week-long space sale that ended on Thursday (Nov. 20), narrowly escaped officers giving it a ticket when it was parked in a loading zone outside the Boston auction house's salesroom on Sunday.
"I had to talk my way out of a parking ticket!" wrote Bobby Livingston, RR Auction's executive vice president, in an e-mail to collectSPACE.com. [Giant Leaps: Biggest Milestones of Human Spaceflight]
Parking citations aside, the two-ton artifact is an example of a "boilerplate" — metal, none-functioning capsules built to the same size and shape as the spacecraft they were designed to test. Used as mass simulators, the prototype capsules were employed by NASA to check out the load and handling characteristics that its craft would encounter during missions.
According to Livingston, this particular Gemini boilerplate was originally used for tests supporting the recovery of the Gemini capsules after they returned from orbit to a splash down in the ocean. Initiated in 1962, Project Gemini tested the docking and spacewalk skills needed to send crews to the moon.
"This [Gemini] boilerplate would have been used primarily for testing water tightness, flotation collars and [astronaut] exit procedures," he said.
Only two such Gemini boilerplates are known to be held in private collections.
"Most boilerplates are on display at museums, bases, and schools," Livingston noted.
David Ursin, who consigned the Gemini boilerplate to RR auction, bought it in 2008 from a collector in California. In the intervening years, the 56-year-old transplant nurse has worked to cosmetically restore the exterior of the capsule, painting it battleship gray and adding Air Force markings.
He said he was selling it now to fund the restoration of another boilerplate — an Apollo capsule — and to help pay for his daughter's college tuition.
"I'm currently deep into an interior restoration of my Apollo and enjoy every minute of it!" Ursin wrote last month on the collectSPACE.com discussion forums. "I've restored a number of antique cars, trucks and even armored vehicles but never have I felt such a passion for it than for [working on the Apollo command module]!"
By the close of the auction on Thursday, bidders had launched the Gemini capsule from its initial $10,000 opening to almost $52,000. RR Auction said Friday the final sale price was still to be confirmed with the capsule’s new owner.
The Gemini boilerplate was among 600 space artifacts and collectibles included in the RR sale. In total, Thursday’s auction topped $1.43 million.
RR kicked off its space auction on Nov. 13 with a special one-lot live sale of the first Hasselblad camera to be used in space. The Mercury program artifact sold for $275,000.
Click through to collectSPACE for more photographs of the Gemini boilerplate capsule.