Our Top Five... Apollo 16 memorabilia items

On April 27, 1972, three highly-relieved men splashed down in the Pacific Ocean after visiting the most exclusive sight-seeing destination in the galaxy.

John W. Young, T. Kenneth Mattingly Jr. and Charles M. Duke Jr. had safely returned from their mission to the Moon aboard Apollo 16 - despite technical difficulties that almost put the entire mission in jeopardy - and mankind's penultimate journey to the lunar surface was complete.

The Apollo 16 mission has provided some of the most interesting items of space memorabilia to appear on the market in recent years. So to mark the 39th anniversary of their safe return to Earth, here are five of the most fascinating (and valuable) objects that came back with them...

5) Apollo 16 Lunar Module Flown Spacecraft Identification Plate Display

For exactly the same price as a pair of space pliers, collectors could have snapped up an extraordinary display item.

Three Lunar Module identification plates were flown on Apollo 16, and once back on Earth they were mounted and presented to the crew members. Each display was accompanied with a plaque which read:

Capt. J. W. Young - Lt. Col. C.M Duke Jr. - Lt. Cmdr. T.K. Mattingly

The quote is a reference to the comment made by Young as the Orion capsule was jettisoned before the return to Earth: "That Orion was a mighty good spacecraft. Real beautiful flying machine and a real great lunar base, too. We'll miss her."

The plaque came from the personal collection of Young himself, and was sold by Heritage in March 2009 for $33,460.

4) Charles Duke's needle nose pliers

The pliers were flown to the moon aboard the Orion Lunar Module, and stored aboard the lunar roving vehicle. Duke then transferred them to the Command Module Casper for the return to Earth, and kept them as part of his personal space collection.

In his letter of certification, Duke stated "It is my opinion that the grey smudges on the handles are traces of lunar dust."

They may not be quite as useful as Doctor Who's Sonic Screwdriver, but at a Heritage auction in March 2008 they were sold for $33,460, earning them a place on any intergalactic tool belt.


Charles Duke's lunar pliers and the Orion capsule
optical alignment sight

3) Apollo 16 Lunar Module Optical Alignment Sight

This piece of technology came directly from the Orion Lunar Module, and was another item from Young's collection.

The piece of precision equipment was vital in allowing the module to dock with Apollo 16 after its mission to the lunar surface, and at the time was just one of the many cutting edge tools in which the astronauts entrusted their lives.

It was sold in October 2009 at a Heritage auction for an impressive $65,725, and is one of the very few items of lunar module technology to have appeared on the market.

2) Apollo 16 Lunar Surface Excursion Map

When stopping to ask direction is definitely not an option, it's important to have a good map. Thankfully the Lunar Rover glove compartment was kitted with this one, an orbital photo of the Moon's surface marked with coordinates and traverse routes.

The Apollo 16 mission took Young and Duke to unexplored region's of the lunar surface, and the map was held by Duke as Young drove the rover. It was signed by Duke with the comment "In all probability the dark smudges are lunar dust from direct contact with the surface."

Objects marked with lunar dust are some of the rarest imaginable, and the holy grail for space collectors. Therefore it's no surprise that this map sold for $94,000 at a Christie's auction in 2001.

1) Charles Duke's wrist-mounted checklist

It's easy to forget just how low-tech the Apollo missions were, when compared to today's modern technology. But the most valuable item of Apollo 16 memorabilia is also one of the simplest: a metal-bound booklet strapped to the wrist of Duke's space suit, which spent 12 hours on the moon's surface.

These booklets were designed to ensure that no vital tasks were overlooked during periods of exploration on the lunar surface, but after completing several tasks Duke was in for a surprise.

On turning a page he discovered a cartoon drawing featuring a drooling astronaut in the arms of a buxom nude woman, proclaiming "Happy Birthday Whatever Your Name Is."

The joke had been planned by various back-up and support crew for the mission, and it was a tradition continued from the very first use of wrist checklists during the Apollo 12 mission.

The lunar equivalent of a saucy postcard, the booklet sold for a stunning $206,000 in July 2009 making it one of the most expensive pieces of space memorabilia ever sold at auction.

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