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Inside a Million Dollar Auction of Rare Space Memorabilia

Are you in the market for 15 gilded astronaut hand molds?

by Becky Ferreira
Jul 21 2016, 6:42pm

Bids coming in over the phone at Bonhams New York’s Space History sale. Image: Jackson Krule/Motherboard

A vintage 1950s full-scale lab model of Sputnik 1, one of only four made. Checklists, manuals, and equipment that flew with Apollo astronauts to the surface of the Moon. A collection of 15 NASA astronaut hand casts, originally used to tailor-make spacesuit gloves, mounted on plaques and decoratively gilded.

Astronaut hand casts, originally used to make spacesuit gloves. Photo courtesy of Bonhams

These were some of the most memorable lots sold off at Bonhams New York's Space History Sale on Wednesday, an event timed to coincide with the 47th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 Moon landing. The auction included nearly 300 items, many of which sparked spirited bidding wars from buyers in the room, on the phone, and online.

Auctioneer announces bids at Bonhams Space History sale. Image: Jackson Krule/Motherboard

The scale model of Sputnik, for instance, ended up selling for a whopping $269,000, roughly 20 times higher than its estimated worth, while the hand molds sold as one lot for $155,000, about 10 times what they had been projected to go for.

Scale model of Sputnik featured in Bonhams New York window. Image: Jackson Krule/Motherboard

Plenty of more modest items, like rare photographs, maps, astronaut mementos, and spaceflight equipment, were met with offers in the hundreds or low thousands of dollars. One of my personal favorites in that price range was the Mir space station's "Merkurii" Control Panel which sold for $2,500.

The Mir space station's "Merkurii" Control Panel. Photo courtesy of Bonhams

In total, the auction earned a cool $1,315,063. "This was a truly meteoric result for the Space History sale," said Cassandra Hatton, director of Bonhams' history of science and technology department, in a statement.

"The demand for these relics of the space race continues to be really strong. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are still very much household names—evidently, everything they touched turns to gold. The pieces from the Soviet space missions are also steeped with history and drama, so it's exciting to see the market flourishing across the board."

Scroll down for a highlight reel of the sale's prodigious collection of space memorabilia.

This signed piece of cloth flew with the Apollo 11 crew to the Moon. Photo courtesy of Bonhams

This piece of beta cloth flew with the Apollo 11 crew to the Moon, and is signed by all three astronauts: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. It sold for $110,000.

Pictured, a spacesuit worn by NASA astronaut Don Pettit. Image: Jackson Krule/Motherboard

The pictured spacesuit was worn by veteran NASA astronaut Don Pettit during his tumultuous 2003 descent from the International Space Station, in the Soyuz TMA-1 vehicle.

Image: Jackson Krule/Motherboard

Pettit's suit sold for $155,000.

A photo of the Mercury 7 crew, taken in 1960. Photo courtesy of Bonhams

The Mercury 7 are pictured here in the thick of survival training in the Nevada desert. Taken in 1960 and signed by six of the seven members of NASA's first group of astronauts, the picture sold for $13,750.

A Snoopy Astronaut doll. Snoopy was a mascot and spokesperson for the Manned Flight Awareness Program. Image: Jackson Krule/Motherboard

This Snoopy Astronaut doll, made in 1969, is a nod to NASA's use of the beloved Peanuts character as a mascot and "spokesperson" for the Manned Flight Awareness (MFA) Program. It's signed by Apollo 10 commander Thomas Stafford. It sold for $2,125.

A compendium of images taken by the NASA Ranger spacecraft. Photo courtesy of Bonhams

This multivolume compendium of images taken by NASA Ranger spacecraft sold for $3,125.

A celestial globe flown with the Soyuz 18 mission in 1975. Image: Jackson Krule/Motherboard

Bids for this celestial globe flown with the manned Soyuz 18 mission in 1975 topped out at $25,000, lower than the projected $30,000.

A lunar chart signed by one member of each Apollo Moon landing crew. Image: Jackson Krule/Motherboard

This lunar chart is signed by one member representing each two-person Apollo Moon landing crew: Buzz Aldrin for Apollo 11, Alan Bean for Apollo 12, Edgar Mitchell for Apollo 14, Dave Scott for Apollo 15, Charles Duke for Apollo 16, and Gene Cernan for Apollo 17. It sold for $37,500.

A copy of the flight plan for Apollo 13, signed by Fred Haise. Photo courtesy of Bonhams

This copy of the flight plan for Apollo 13, a mission that notoriously did not go according to plan, is signed by crew member Fred Haise. It was bought for $3,125.

A copy of the "Earthrise" picture taken by Apollo 8. Image: Jackson Krule/Motherboard

A copy of the famous "Earthrise" picture taken by Apollo 8, signed by all three crew members, went for $1,750.

A 1958 illustration, "Moonshot," by artist Allan Todd. Image: Jackson Krule/Motherboard

"Moonshot," a 1958 illustration by artist Allan Todd, depicts astronauts on the lunar surface. It sold for $6,000.

A flight simulation chair used to train astronauts. Photo courtesy of Bonhams

This flight simulation chair was used during the early years of the Space Shuttle program to train astronauts in remote operations and docking maneuvers. It sold for $4,750.

A vintage model of the Soyuz rocket. Image: Jackson Krule/Motherboard

This large vintage model of the Soyuz rocket was made during the heat of the space race, and was auctioned for $10,000.