Soviet moon rocks fetch $855,000 at New York auction

Three pieces of moon rock brought to Earth decades ago have sold at auction, nearly doubling their price. The tiny lumps, collected by a Soviet moon mission, are the only known material of their kind in private hands.

Sotheby's auction house in New York said the tiny pieces of moon rock had fetched $855,000 (€750,535) at auction on Thursday, being sold to an undisclosed private US buyer.

Culture | 25.04.2018

The lunar fragments had been offered for sale by an unidentified US collector who bought them in 1993 for $442,500.

The auction house had said ahead of the sale that the rocks — which range in size from 0.079 x 0.079 inches (2mm x 2mm) — could sell for as much as $1 million.

The samples had originally belonged to Nina Ivanovna Koroleva, widow of the former Soviet space program director Sergei Pavlovich Korolev. They were given to her as a gift from the Soviet Union in recognition of her husband's contributions to the program.

Science | 25.09.2015

The pieces were gathered in September 1970 by the unmanned Luna-16 probe, which landed on the lunar Sea of Fertility to drill a core sample of the lunar surface.

Read more: China unveils plans to launch man-made moon into space

It's very rare for authentic lunar samples to come onto the market, with all those that were retrieved by NASA in the hands of the US government rather than private individuals.

Collectors pay hefty sums for space exploration artifacts. Sotheby's last year sold a "Lunar Sample Return" bag laced with moon dust that Neil Armstrong used on the first manned mission to the moon in 1969, for $1.8 million.

A lunar meteorite found in northern Africa  last year sold for more than $600,000.

Sotheby's space auction to bring in millions

One small bag for giant price for bidders

The white, unassuming bag used by US astronaut Neil Armstrong to bring back the first samples of the moon to Earth is worth an estimated $2 million to $4 million. The highest bidder will also get to take home the remaining lunar dust and moon rocks found in the bag.

Sotheby's space auction to bring in millions

Photos of first lunar landing

Pictures taken by Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission will also go under the hammer during the July 20 auction, which is taking place on the 48th anniversary of the first lunar landing. This print of "Buzz" Aldrin walking on the moon, signed by the astronaut himself, could bring as much as $5,000, according to Sotheby's.

Sotheby's space auction to bring in millions

Report from the first human in space

Sotheby's auction doesn't just focus on the American side of space travel. One of the most valuable artifacts on offer is a description of the planet from the first human ever to see it from outer space - Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. His observations, translated from Russian, have an estimated value of $50,000 to $80,000. Additionally, the full-scale Sputnik-1 model is also for sale.

Sotheby's space auction to bring in millions

'Houston, we've had a problem' flight plan

The annotated flight plan used by the crew of the Apollo 13 mission is predicted to bring between $30,000 and $40,000. The Apollo 13 mission passed the far side of the moon and was supposed to be the third US moon landing, but an explosion badly damaged the spacecraft - leading to the famous "Houston, we've had a problem" call. The crew miraculously returned safely six days later.

Sotheby's space auction to bring in millions

'Flown to the moon' - Apollo 11 flight plan

A flight plan sheet used during the Apollo 11 mission - also signed by Buzz Aldrin - is on display and up for sale in New York. The single sheet is estimated to be worth between $25,000 and $35,000.

rc/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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