On this day in 1971, the Apollo 14 lunar mission returned safely to the Earth. The perennial fascination of collectors with all things space-related is underlined by the continuing popularity of its memorabilia, which still commands enormous sums.
Apollo 14 was the eighth manned mission to the Moon, and launched from the Kennedy Space Centre on January 31, 1971. The crew of three - Alan Shepherd, Stuart Roosa and Edgar Mitchell - landed on the Moon five days later.
Shepherd and Mitchell descended to the surface to moonwalk, conducting many scientific experiments and collecting nearly 45kg of lunar samples. Apollo 14 was a highly successful, science-oriented mission, with notable achievements including the longest lunar walk and the only use of a 'lunar rickshaw', a machine for carrying equipment across the surface.
The Apollo 14 mission has been popular on the collectors market as well. In 2010, Heritage Auction Galleries sold the nametag from Edgar Mitchell's spacesuit for an amazing $59,750. In 2008, the US flag carried by Mitchell on the surface of the Moon sold for a staggering $26,290.
Mitchell, the only surviving astronaut from the mission, recently hosted a commemorative event at Kennedy Space Centre alongside many other Apollo astronauts, including Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan.
The evening - open to only 50 ticket holders - included an opportunity to be photographed with Mitchell. No doubt these snaps - signed by the astronaut - will be highly prized collectors' items in the near future.
Relics from the Apollo missions remain eternally coveted by collectors and alternative investors. Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong is particularly sought after; the first moonwalker no longer signs autographs, making it the world's rarest living autograph and therefore incredibly collectible.
Armstrong's signature has appreciated 900% since the early 1990s, as was noted in the PFC40 index. As we reported here, Regency Superior conducted an auction of three Armstrong autographs in late January, each selling for between $3,750 and $4,500.
Other items from Apollo 11 attract unbelievable prices. A US flag carried to the moon and affixed to a certificate signed by all three of the astronauts sold for $39,710 last month. Heritage Auction Galleries sold Buzz Aldrin's slide rule, used on the Moon, for a staggering $77,675.
Other Apollo missions have a similar effect. A fortnight ago, we wrote about a lunar map used on Apollo 17 - the last lunar landing mission - sold for a remarkable $27,800 last month. Later this month, Lunar Legacies will auction a signed, space-flown Apollo 10 patch which is likely to realise a high price.
The cultural and scientific importance of the missions, the rarity of the autographs and items, the age of memorabilia and the seemingly slim chance lunar landings will happen anytime soon, all add to the mythology that drives this unique market.
The obsession of collectors and investors with the final frontier is as strong as ever. The space-memorabilia market is now worth millions, and is most apparent with any Apollo associated ephemera. The anniversary of Apollo 14's safe return could mark the beginning of your adventure in the world of space collectibles . . .
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