Apollo 13 prank 'Towing Bill' could sell for $4,000

As if the near-complete skeleton of a 20-foot-long dinosaur ('The $0.5m hadrosaurid skeleton,' April 27) isn't remarkable enough, a manuscript billed as "one of the great historical oddities of all time" will also auction at IM Chait's Spring Natural History Auction on May 16.

On April 17, 1970, the crew of Apollo 13 powered up and reheated their Lunar Module for final injection into Earth's trajectory. Through sheer bravery and skill, the crew had avoided losing their lives in an aborted, near-disastrous attempt to land on the Moon.

Their journey back to Earth had been achieving using the Lunar landing Module as an impromptu "life raft", towing the damage crippled Command Service Module (CSM) behind it for some 400,000 miles.

For the first time since the explosion of Apollo 13's oxygen tank days previously, the worried and sleep-deprived onlookers back home could finally believe that its crew - Jim Lovell, John Swigert and Fred Haise - were going to survive.

At this point the engineers at Grumman Aerospace Corporation, builder of the mission's Lunar landing Module were, in their own words, "slap-happy from relief and from days without sleep." In jest, they prepared a "Towing Bill" addressed to Rockwell, builders of the crippled CSM.

Grumman’s 400,000 mile ‘Towing Charge’ from 1970
(Click to enlarge)


Between them, the engineers decided to charge Rockwell four dollars for the first mile and one dollar for each additional mile. They put additional surcharges for use of the Lunar Module's jumper cable to recharge the CSM's batteries.

The joke Towing Bill was passed around the employees at Grumman's offices, photocopied and recopied... until eventually landing on the desk of the respected US newscaster Walter Cronkite.

At this point, no one was laughing - least of all the Grumman and NASA management, to say nothing of Rockwell. As the story goes, for months afterwards concerned members of the public sent Grumman envelopes containing money to help Rockwell pay its supposed 400,000 miles Towing Bill.

Space collectors (and other collectors perhaps with no space in their houses for a 20-foot Maiasaura dinosaur skeleton) will have an opportunity to purchase one of the original Grumman copies of the bill, also the actual copy published in Chariots of Apollo, the definitive Apollo 13 book.

Upon the contract is a inscription penned later in 1982: "One of the old, original (amazing multiplying) copies of Grumman's Apollo 13 towing bill to Rockwell - Charles R. Pellegrino." It will auction with a pre-sale estimate of $3,000-4,000.


Image: IM Chait

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