In 2021, Jeff Bezos’ spaceflight company Blue Origin came up with an ambitious idea. They wanted to auction off the first seat on New Shepard’s first ever crewed flight into space, and for this they needed a qualified auction house. The rocket had been thoroughly tested through 15 previous flights, but one hurdle still remained – major auction houses in New York had refused the offer because they couldn’t meet Blue Origin’s needs. Enter RR Auction.
Our team viewed this as an opportunity to make history. There wasn’t much to compare with; only one space tourism competitor thus far had priced seats at $250,000. This auction would set the precedent and establish a price point for future retail sales, and there was really no known limit as to how high it could go.
Blue Origin landed on RR Auction as their auction partner because we welcome the challenge; as our CEO and President Bob Eaton said, we were “willing to do whatever it took.” Our nimble and experienced team takes pride in enabling those we work with, offering efficiency, speed and collaboration at every step.
So off we went boldly where no auction house has gone before.
The sky isn’t the limit
This was far from RR Auction’s first foray into space. The Boston Globe once referred to us as “a small firm with a big reputation among collectors of space age artifacts.” Our first auction of space-related memorabilia was held in 2011, and over the years, we’ve had the honor of auctioning items from some of the leading names in the niche. Most significantly, we’ve auctioned Dave Scott’s Apollo 15 Lunar Surface Chronograph watch for $1.6 million, and “The Moon Puzzle,” a rare NWA 11789 Lunar Meteorite, for $612,500.
Blue Origin needed an auction house partner to conduct both an online and a live auction. The lot on offer was not an object but an adventure – a seat on New Shepard’s “first human flight” with none other than Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark. As always, RR Auction’s goal was to deliver remarkable results for both the consignor and bidders.
The month-long online pre-auction that opened on 5 May 2021 garnered global participation, with nearly 7,600 registered bidders from 159 countries, and a high bid of $1.4 million unsealed after 19 May. By the end of the pre-auction, the bid to beat was $4.8 million. Bidders interested in the live auction were meticulously screened by RR Auction. We verified their identities and interviewed each finalist via Zoom.
Improbable, but not impossible
At the live auction in Boston on 12 June 2021, the stage was set for 23 bidders to compete for this historic opportunity. Ariane Cornell, Vice President of Commercial Orbital, Astronaut and International Sales at Blue Origin, observed that this was already a unique development – “our auction house partner said that for multi-million dollar items like this, there normally
are maybe a handful of bidders. But for this, they had to triple the size of their phone bank.” She added that these bidders were all “passionate about space and […] have been waiting their whole lives for this opportunity.”
The live auction was opened by Steve Little, more than doubling to $11 million in slightly over two minutes of fierce bidding. The bidders dropped as the numbers on the screen continued to rise. In six electric minutes – slightly less than the duration of New Shepard’s planned flight above the Kármán line and back – there was a winner at the astronomical hammer price of $28 million.
Enabling a new generation of explorers
The auction beneficiary was Blue Origin’s non-profit foundation Club for the Future, aimed at inspiring and supporting students and youth to pursue their interest in space exploration. And on 20 July 2021, alongside Bezos and his brother, Oliver Daeman, 18, became the youngest person to go into space. He took the place of the auction winner – bidder number 107, cryptocurrency entrepreneur Justin Sun.
With the immense success of this auction, Blue Origin’s partnership with RR Auction enabled them to not only offer seats on subsequent flights to other finalists and underbidders, but also establish a competitive price point for future commercial sales.
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