Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong made history when they became the first two people to set foot on the moon in the summer of 1969. Now, more than 50 years later, Aldrin is auctioning off a selection of his personal items, including the jacket he wore during the Apollo 11 mission.
“This collection is a summary of my career as an astronaut,” Aldrin, 92, said in a statement. “After careful consideration, the time had come to share these objects with the world, which for many are symbols of a historical moment, but for me have always remained personal memories of a life devoted to science and exploration.”
The white jacket, seen by the approximately 650 million people who watched the lunar landing on television, is the only space garment from that mission still held by a private individual. As such, it is expected to fetch more than $2 million at auction this week, according to Sotheby’s.
NASA designers made Aldrin’s flight suit jacket from a new durable, flame-retardant material called beta fabric. Historically, astronaut suits incorporated highly flammable materials like nylon, but the fatal Apollo 1 fire in 1967 forced NASA to develop a new solution.
The jacket still bears the Apollo 11 mission emblem, the United States flag, the NASA logo, and Aldrin’s name, “E. Aldrin. (Buzz is his nickname; his first name is Edwin.)
The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum houses the jackets that Armstrong and pilot Michael Collins wore during the lunar mission, as well as the A7-L pressure suits of the three men.
Aldrin also sells the broken circuit breaker which, if not for his ingenuity and quick thinking, would have stuck him, Armstrong, and Collins on the moon. For the same purpose, he also sells the felt-tip pen he used to turn on the engine of the lunar module and bring the crew home safely. These two items are expected to fetch between $1 million and $2 million, per Sotheby’s.
“By some sort of miracle, the diameter of this plastic tip [was] the same as the diameter of the switch,” says Cassandra Hatton, global head of science and popular culture at Sotheby’s, in a video, per USA todayit’s Ariana Triggs. “And he slotted right into that hole and cocked the engine and saved their lives.”
“If the felt hadn’t worked, I’m sure Mission Control and the crew would have worked hard to find other ways to close the circuit so the ascent motor could be triggered,” said historian William Barry. chief of NASA. Lesley Kennedy of History.com in 2019. “But this was a serious situation – enough that on subsequent lunar modules protection was installed on these circuit breakers to prevent a similar issue.”
At some point, a myth began to circulate that the astronauts had used the Fisher Space pen to close the circuit, rather than just the felt tip pen.
“The myth lives on, in part, because the Fisher Space Pen company knew an opportunity when it saw one,” Mark Strauss wrote for Smithsonian magazine in 2011. “They started promoting their product as the writing instrument that ‘brought the astronauts home’.”
Aldrin also sells the lunar module activation checklist he was supposed to leave on the moon, but decided to bring back to Earth. The multi-page document, which is expected to fetch between $150,000 and $250,000, contains Aldrin and Armstrong’s handwritten notes.
Also up for auction is the handmade “Go Army Beat Navy” banner that Armstrong brought with him on his Gemini 12 spacewalk in 1966. The banner was Aldrin’s cheeky response to the 1965 Gemini 6A mission, during which crew members placed a “Beat Army” sign in the spacecraft’s window.
Although Aldrin served in the US Air Force, he attended West Point, the military training academy for army cadets.
“This ‘Go Army Beat Navy’ banner is one of the few objects flying in Earth orbit and exposed to the vacuum of space,” Armstrong wrote in a Provenance Letter, per Sotheby’s. “It’s also a rare example of a handmade astronaut certified flight item and, not to mention, a great ‘gotcha’ on the Navy guys.”