Time to shuttle off... The era of the Space Shuttle draws to a close

The space shuttle Discovery has been rolled out in preparation for its final flight, scheduled to be on November 1 with NASA employees heading in for an up close and personal view.

The strict rules on who amongst them can come to visit the site at any time have been relaxed for its final mission, with two who were married earlier this year appearing dressed up for wedding photos in front of it.

The final launch of any shuttle in America is expected to happen in February, with museums already looking expectantly to house the spacecraft once they've been pensioned off (as we've reported previously).

It is the end of an era. Whilst the Apollo missions represented the peak of manned space exploration back in the 1960s-1970s, the shuttle programme's 38 flights in three decades has represented by far mankind's most concerted effort to master the heavens.

So what does the end of the programme mean for shuttle-era collectibles? Are they likely to increase in value, or fade from view in comparison with their more glamorous counterparts? Does it mean anything for space collectibles in general?

Early Space Shuttle Model (sold at Bonhams)
Early Space Shuttle Model (sold at Bonhams)

There are a few indicators that shuttle collectibles will do well and provide a solid investment.

For a start, it's easy to underestimate the significance with which many regard the start of the shuttle programme. At Bonhams' Space sale in the summer of 2009, timed to catch the excitement of the Apollo 11 mission it was naturally memorabilia associated with the first moonwalkers which earned the highest prices.

But later pieces from the shuttle programme exceeded their estimates more than their share of the time, with bidders noticeably anxious to pick up early models of the shuttles and parts from the actual mechanism.

In general, the prices can be surprisingly high, perhaps reflecting a generation who remembered the early shuttle flights even if they didn't remember the moon landings. Or perhaps those who saw the shuttle programme as a whole new step - the first move to actually living somewhere other than Earth.

Commander John Young Flow Flight Suit Patches
Commander John Young's Flown Flight suit patches

Regardless, an early shuttle model based on initial design concepts at the Manned Spacecraft Centre led by Dr Faget brought $23,180 in 2009, whilst Commander John Young's Flown Flight Suit Patches from Columbia's first mission sold for a whopping $56,762.

It seems likely also that the retirement of the shuttle programme will lead to a rise in the value of space memorabilia in general.

It's no longer clear where the next source of such memorabilia, particularly flown items is going to come from, as no nation has a complete plan in place which will lead to mankind popping its head above the atmosphere again any time soon.


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