Have you ever been to a garage sale where someone was selling sports trophies? Kinda tacky, right? Well, it’s not so much the same when an ex-astronaut does it, especially when it’s one of the original moon landing astronaut’s Presidential Medal of Freedom.
That, and more items of near-legendary significance to lovers of both history and spaceflight went up for auction by Sotheby’s Tuesday. Among the 69-item hoard, memorabilia of ex-astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s NASA career offered a glimpse into tangible aspects of the famed Apollo 11 mission to the Moon. The whole selection included items as famous as Aldrin’s custom-fitted teflon in-flight jacket (sold for $2.7 million), and as esoteric as the softsuit and hardsuit EVA checklists for the Gemini 12 mission where Aldrin helped demonstrate the ability to effectively work during a spacewalk (they sold for $20,160 and $27,720 respectively).
The auction also included original copies of the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 summary flight plans, still bound in their original metal rings. The booklets apparently contain detailed, full timelines, including Apollo’s takeoff, touchdown on July 20, 1969, then finally its reentry into Earth’s atmosphere and splashdown July 24.
The Presidential Medal of Valor, handed to Aldrin by then-President Richard Nixon, sold for $277,200. The New York Times reported that such medals rarely go up for sale, according to Sotheby’s. This latest space-based auction eclipsed the total spent for in previous sales that included items from fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, according to the auction house. Armstrong passed away in 2012.
To see such important historical treasures put up on the auction block makes me feel equal parts wistful and morose. Knowing that it’s the jurisdiction of Aldrin and his family, I can’t help but think some of these items are historical artifacts that truly belong in a museum rather than in the hands of some private collector. The National Air and Space Museum already contains several of Aldrin’s and Armstrong’s NASA gear like their original space suits (yes, they wore it best). The Smithsonian Institute-run building received Armstrong’s inflight jacket from NASA back in 1974.
But that’s just the way of these things. The Times reported that a statement attributed to Aldrin said the items “have always remained personal mementos of a life dedicated to science and exploration.”
The Guardian reported the jacket was sold to an anonymous buyer participating over phone after nearly nine minutes of intense bidding. The jackets were made of teflon beta cloth designed to withstand extreme heat, according to the Earth and Space Museum, but apparently they can’t withstand the pressure of non-fungible tokens. This and other lots description mentioned they came prepackaged with a NFT, one that they claim is “linked to its physical object using novel microscopic 3D scanning technology and advanced mathematical techniques that extract the object’s identifying ‘DNA.’” How this confers any more sense of ownership other than actually owning the damn item is another question entirely.
The total auction went for two hours where 68 of 69 total lots were sold. The only lot that didn’t sell was a broken circuit switch that nearly stranded the Apollo 11 mission, requiring Aldrin to use a spare felt-tip pen as a jury rigged replacement. Both the switch and pen together were expected to go for $1 to $2 million, but bidding only reached $650,000.
We already know how much items like these are worth to collectors. Former NASA intern Gary George sold off three of the original video tapes produced by NASA for the Apollo 11 landing for $1.82 million.
The Buzz Aldrin Living Trust, which was created to handle the 92-year-old retired astronaut’s estate and affairs, was listed as behind the auction. The fund is managed in part by the ex-astronaut’s son Andrew, while he and his sister Janice Aldrin also help manage a nonprofit and private company in their father’s name. Back in 2018, Aldrin sued his children alongside a former business manager, arguing they were trying to abuse company finances while claiming he was in cognitive decline. Aldrin dropped the lawsuit in 2019.
If you’re looking for a little Apollo 11 nostalgia that won’t set you back millions of dollars, check out Gizmodo’s picks for rare or little-seen pictures of the Apollo 11 mission.
Update 7/28/2022 at 9:00 a.m. ET: This article was amended to correct what Aldrin accomplished during the Gemini 12 mission.