Buzz Aldrin’s Apollo 11 mission jacket is near the top of the heap, selling for almost R46 million, but it’s still not the most someone’s shelled out for space artifacts.
If you want to own an iconic piece of space history, know that it doesn’t come cheap. The most recent big-ticket space item sold at auction was astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s Apollo 11mission jacket, which earned over $2.77 million via Sotheby’s late last month—a price tag higher than that of any other American space artifact in the history of auctions. Compare that to the autographed transcript of the first telephone call to the moon, which sold for just $31,325 in 2019; still a pricey proposition, but nowhere near as lucrative.
People are so fascinated by early space programs that prices for one-time everyday objects have skyrocketed from their original value. Take Apollo 15 Commander David Scott’s original wristwatch, worn during NASA’s fourth mission to land on the moon. It originally retailed for $500, but sold at auction in 2015 for $1.6 million. Also sold at the recent Aldrin-themed auction are items that weren’t directly related to space exploration, but are still intimately tied to the astronaut: an MTV Video Music Awards statuette that sold for $88,200; and a 1973 letter from Neil Armstrong to Buzz Aldrin, trying to convince him not to sell his life story for a biopic film, which sold for $21,420. (The film aired in 1976, so it seems Armstrong’s argument went ignored.)
Together, Sotheby’s and Bonham’s have sold the biggest-ticket items. But smaller auction houses are gameplayers, too, like the website CollectSpace.com.
Below, we’ve compiled a list of the 11 most expensive pieces of space history that have fetched the highest prices at auction.
Holding only a mannequin named Ivan and a space dog named Zvezdochka (Russian for “Little Star”), this capsule shot into space as a Soviet test, shortly before sending the first human into spaceflight, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Someone paid around $2.9 million for the doggie capsule at a 2011 Sotheby’s auction. So far, it’s the highest price ever paid for a space relic.
On his mission to the moon and back in 1969, astronaut Buzz Aldrin wore a custom-fitted white jacket with NASA insignia and his name patch. On July 24, 2022, the 53rd anniversary of the Apollo 11 team’s splashdown back on Earth, that well-preserved jacket sold for a remarkable $2.7 million. After nine minutes of intense bidding, the auctioneer called it “the most valuable American space-flown artifact ever sold at auction,” The New York Times reported. It’s also the most ever spent on a jacket at auction, according to Forbes. Sotheby’s auctioned off dozens of objects of memorabilia from Aldrin’s illustrious space career, but the jacket fetched more money than any of them. Nearly all of the memorabilia sold, for a combined total of $8 million.
An anonymous buyer purchased a white, zippered bag that Neil Armstrong once filled with lunar rock samples at a Sotheby’s auction in July 2017. The bag contained the leftover dust from those rocks.
Part of a space program-themed auction on the 53rd anniversary of Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s iconic moon landing, the bag was only one of 173 items, including photographs, artifacts, and models of spacecraft, according to The New York Times. More than 500 people, representing about a dozen countries, were at the auction. Sotheby’s identified the buyer or buyers of the Armstrong bag only as American.
The bag has an odd history. NASA lost it after lending it to a space museum in Kansas. It was traced to the man who once ran the museum, who was convicted of theft and related crimes. Then government officials who recovered the bag ended up confusing it with a different bag that had not been to the moon, and sold it at auction. Before it came to Sotheby’s, its new owner checked its authenticity with NASA, which then tried to recover it as a historical artifact. But the owner refused, and eventually, made over $1 million dollars at the 2017 Sotheby’s sale.
NASA issued Omega Speedmaster wristwatches for the Apollo astronauts who went to the moon. But because Apollo 15 Commander David Scott’s wristwatch broke, he replaced it with a Bulova watch; it was wrapped around his wrist during the 1971 Apollo 15 mission. Its original retail price was about $500, according to auction house RR Auction, where it sold for around $1.6 million in 2015.
Three grains of moon material that cosmonauts brought back from the 1970 Soviet Luna-16 mission changed hands several times. The first time these basalt and regolith (loose, rocky material on the lunar surface) particles sold at auction, in 1993, they earned $442,500. Their owner coughed up almost double that price—an exorbitant $855,000—in the 2018 Sotheby’s auction.
The Sputnik-1 satellite was the catalyst for the Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. It circled the Earth for three months in 1957, causing consternation about Cold War Soviet intentions among America’s security and burgeoning space agency officials. A full-scale, 23-inch diameter test model of Sputnik-1 garnered so much attention that it sold for more than $800,000 at a 2017 Bonhams auction.
Listed as “A Complete Summary of the Entire Mission, From Launch to Splashdown,” the thick sheaf of white pages brought in more than $800,000 at the Sotheby’s Buzz Aldrin-themed auction on June 24, 2022. Buzz Aldrin scrawled “Flown to the moon” and his signature in blue ink on the front cover.
The first mission to land on the moon, Apollo 11 needed a 69-page checklist just to document the state of the lunar module Eagle as it prepared to land on the moon. The checklist includes hand-written annotations Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong jotted on it during the mission, according to the Sotheby’s listing. At least some of these notes were made using the aluminum pen that Aldrin used to fix a broken circuit breaker switch and reignite the Lunar Module ascent engine, allowing the mission to continue safely. Sotheby’s brought in over $500,000 on this item.
Yellowed with age, this set of three large, double-sided cue cards is individually signed and transcribed with “Flown to the lunar surface on Apollo XI/Buzz Aldrin.” The crew of Apollo 11 used this detailed checklist of crew procedures for their moonwalk. They include instructions for spacesuit removal, rock sample storage, and jettisoning of any excess equipment. The cue-card set sold for over $350,000 at the recent Sotheby’s auction.
The plan details the touchdown of the lunar module and the first hour of the first human landing on the lunar surface, complete with the many tasks that Mission Commander Neil Armstrong, Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Mission Control had to complete during the landing of the Lunar Module. The first hour of activity after touchdown on the moon describes numerous tasks, including the now-historic instructions to let Mission Control know that “The Eagle” has landed, according to the Sotheby’s item description.
The water dispenser looks a bit like a metallic water gun. It was designed to dispense measured amounts of hot or cold water. The astronauts used it to rehydrate their meals and drinks, and to extinguish fires. Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong both used it during the Apollo 11 crew’s lunar stay. They could squirt water directly into their mouths, too, according to Aldrin’s accompanying letter.