by Brooke Kennedy
Our second semi-annual Space Exploration and Aviation auction of the year showcased a number of otherworldly items that reached over $2 million in total sales. The space auction market is still very strong for premium flown items. Along with a number of artifacts including medallions and meteorites, several NASA astronauts chose RR Auction to represent items from their personal collections including Tom Stafford, Charlie Duke, and Dave Scott.
During the Apollo 16 mission, Charlie Duke and John Young were tasked with the collection of soil samples so they could be studied upon their return to Earth. To aid in their collection, this moon rock scoop helped them gather more than 200 pounds of material.
Video footage from the Apollo 16 EVAs shows the scoop in use throughout the mission. They began gathering samples at Plum Crater, with Duke using the scoop to collect lunar soil. Furthermore, Duke can also be seen using the scoop to help him recover what would be the largest lunar rock sample to ever be collected in the duration of the Apollo Program.
Duke recalls the difficulty in gathering this sample which became known as ‘Big Muley’ in his conversation with executive vice president Bobby Livingston, “I had to pick up a rock that was probably the size of a watermelon, and I could not pick it up with one hand. So I put the shovel down and leaned towards it, and rolled this rock up my side with my right hand, and was able to roll it up my leg and cradle it like a little baby.”
Photographs including a famous one of Duke as he stands at the edge of Plum Crater capture the scoop thrust into the lunar surface.
After the mission, Duke chose to keep the head of the scoop as part of his personal collection (the handle extension was left behind on the moon). Duke only recalls one other scoop being returned from the Apollo missions, and since 1972 it has remained in his possession, making it not only an exceptionally historic artifact but an original piece from an Apollo astronaut. After going up for sale at RR Auction, it reached a realized price of $874,998. In addition to the scoop, the winning bidder participated in a video call with Charlie Duke himself.
The Mercury-Atlas 7 mission is infamous for its re-entry, and this next item comes directly from inside the space capsule that orbited Earth.
This satellite clock – which sold for $243,600 – served as the center instrument panel for Carpenter’s Aurora 7 capsule, and helped with preparation for the spacecraft’s re-entry into the atmosphere after orbit.
Visual evidence of the Aurora 7 instrument panel currently on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum shows that the clock was removed post-flight and replaced. Carpenter himself even provided a provenance letter confirming that the clock was given to him “by the MA7 Launch Crew.”
Additionally the clock’s golden front plate provides a chronological timeline of Carpenter’s re-entry, recording the events, times, and measurements: “Lift Off 07:45:16,” “BECO [Booster Engine Cutoff] 07:47:24,” “SECO [Sustainer Engine Cutoff] 07:50:25,” “CAP SEP 07:50:28,” “Apogee 166.82 N.M.,” “Perigee 86.87 N.M.,” “Retro Fire, 12:18:26,” “Drogue, 12:36:10,” “Main, 12:37:04,” and “Impact, 12:41:20.”
“Carpenter activated the retrorockets three seconds later than planned; this delay, compounded by a malfunctioning pitch horizon scanner, forced Carpenter to control his reentry manually,” according to RR Auction’s description of the clock. “As a consequence, the Aurora 7 missed its landing area broadly and Carpenter… was left to float alone in his life raft for nearly an hour before recovery vehicles arrived on the scene.”
As a result, the Aurora 7 capsule landed around 250 miles away from its original landing point.
This last item comes from the personal collection astronaut Dave Scott, and is another coveted piece from the Apollo Program.
RR Auction consignor Dave Scott brought this ring-bound “LM Systems Data Book” to the moon for the Apollo 15 mission, consulting its diagrams and schematics for the Lunar Module and Lunar Roving Vehicle.
“This Systems Data book was necessary to monitor and correct any discrepancies or failure modes in the LM, including close coordination with the Mission Control Center MCC,” according to Scott in his letter of provenance. “Among other topics, included are summaries of Mission Rules, Go-no-Go criteria, switches, circuit breakers, and systems for the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (suit), and the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV).”
Scott certifies its flown status on the book’s front cover, “Flown to the lunar surface for 3 days during Apollo 15, July 26-August 7, 1971, Dave Scott, Apollo 15 CDR.”
RR Auction sold this book to the highest bidder for $120,044, more than double its $50,000 estimate. This is the last complete LM System Data Book left to an astronaut’s private hands since many are either destroyed or displayed in museums, making this a true rarity.
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