Artifacts from Apollo missions sell at out-of-this-world auction

Story highlights

A joystick used by Apollo 15 commander to land on the moon sold for over $600,000

It was among hundreds of aviation and space exploration artifacts sold at auction this week

Many items touched the surface of the moon during multiple Apollo missions

CNN  — 

It may be the next best thing to owning a piece of the moon.

A cloth American flag that was taken to the moon’s surface was one of more than 500 aviation and space exploration artifacts sold into private hands at auction this week.

“To be honest with you, there’s only 12 men who walked on the moon out of 105 billion people who have walked on this earth since humankind started walking upright,” Larry McGlynn, the newest owner of the American flag told CNN on Friday. “These are incredibly rare items.”

The 2.5 inch-by-1.75 inch commemorative American flag framed with an Apollo 15 uniform patch—which also went to the moon—was sold to McGlynn for $27,741.35, according to Bobby Livingston, executive vice president of New Hampshire-based RR Auction.

But the biggest seller was a complete Apollo 15 rotational hand controller used by Commander David Scott to fly and land his lunar module on the surface of the moon in 1971. The joystick-like device was purchased by an anonymous European client for $610,063, Livingston said.

“It’s a very important hand controller. It was the most used of all the missions,” Livingston said, adding that Scott had to manually land with the joystick because he was off-course during his descent onto the moon.

A crewman optical alignment sight, which is similar to a periscope for space, sold for over $126,000, he said.

All three items came from Scott’s personal collection.

“These items represent the pinnacle of Apollo-era flown material,” said Richard Jurek, co-author of “Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program.”

He added, “While risking their lives during the most critical and historic phases of their mission – these are the items that the astronauts personally selected to retain as mementos from arguably the greatest technological and engineering achievement of the 20th century.”

The market is hot for space items, especially lunar-surface artifacts and prices are continually going up, Livingston said. The weeklong auction was RR Auction’s seventh NASA-themed sale.

Seventy items from Apollo 11 – the first manned mission to land on the moon – also were offered, including pieces from the personal collections of Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.

Many of the collectors, including McGlynn, grew up watching America’s space program, and feel a personal connection to the pieces.

“I actually saw an American flag like the one I bought at a geology professor’s house years ago,” McGlynn said. Though he did not want to identify the professor, he said that the flag was a gift from an astronaut who was advised by the professor.

“These astronauts resonate. People love the heroism and the sophistication,” Livingston said. “You have to remember, everyone from Galileo to Einstein to Neil Armstrong looked up to the moon, wanting to figure out how to get there – and these astronauts were able to get up there and come back down.”