Today in history... The voyage of the second Congressman in space

Clarence William "Bill" Nelson's claim in his official biography that he is "the leading Congressional expert on NASA" was put to the test, on this day in 1986.

On January 11, the then-43 year old politician seized a rare opportunity to represent the US Democrats in space, as a "Payload Specialist" aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia.

Apollo Reaction Control Rocket Engine (£21,960)
Apollo Rocket Engine (£21,960)

By then, the USA's Space Shuttle programme was in full swing. But the programme's origins actually predate Apollo 11's first manned Moon mission.

Prior to 1969, the US began investigating avenues to producing reusable space shuttles which could offer optimal and cost-effective performance.

Following years of dedicated research from eminent minds in the fields of science and aviation, the space shuttle programme was eventually officially announced on January 5, 1972, by President Nixon.

Aside from the obvious heroism and bravery of the astronauts involved, the technology behind NASA's numerous trips to the Moon is of huge interest to collectors - and this has been reflected on the auction block.

Last year, Paul Fraser Collectibles had a look at the Top Five most valuable pieces of space shuttle memorabilia - "how about owning your own piece of a space shuttle?" we asked.

The fact remains, nothing like these unusual craft have existed in history, before or since.

Big sellers in 2009 included an Apollo Reaction Control Rocket Engine, used in the Command and Lunar Modules of the legendary Apollo missions.

Manufactured by the Marquardt Corporation, the 100-pounds rocket soared way past its £15,000 estimate, bringing £21,960.

The Falcon lunar module's Attitude Control joystick from Apollo 15 (£206,000)
Apollo 15's Attitude Control joystick (£206,000)

At Heritage, earlier the same year, an Apollo 16 Lunar Module Flown Crewman Optical Alignment Sight (COAS) - perhaps better described as an "electronic telescope" - sold for $65,725.

Finally, one of the most fascinating items to appear at auction was also one of the most valuable.

Turning heads at Bonhams' Space Sale in July, 2009 was the Falcon lunar module's Attitude Control joystick, as used in the Apollo 15 mission.

The device, critical in steering Apollo 15 to and from the Moon, was acquired by one lucky space collector for a cool £206,000.



Featured products

Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Sale price£399
In stock
Fidel Castro signed certificateFidel Castro Signed Certificate
Fidel Castro signed certificate
Sale price£2,995
In stock
King Henry VIII Autographed DocumentKing Henry VIII Autographed Document
King Henry VIII Autographed Document
Sale price£65,000
In stock