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Space memorabilia auction hits $1 million mark in New York

By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An emblem that traveled with U.S. astronauts on the 1969 Apollo moon flight and a check list from that historic mission were the top-selling items in a sale of space memorabilia, Bonhams auction house said on Wednesday.

Nearly 300 space enthusiasts and collectors, ranging in age from their late 20s upwards, from 17 countries on four continents bid by telephone, Internet or in person in New York on Tuesday.

The auction took in $1 million, with 80 percent of the 300 items sold.

"Space memorabilia is something that has broad appeal and you don't have to be a specialist to be excited about space exploration," Cassandra Hatton, senior space specialist at Bonhams in New York, said.

"It is something that people dream of when they are kids. A lot of children dreamed of being an astronaut. It is a very personal kind of collecting area," she added.

The Apollo 11 checklist sheet with data recorded by crew member Buzz Aldrin while on the moon rocketed past it pre-sale estimate of $45,000 and sold for $68,750.

Another top seller was an emblem showing an eagle with an olive branch above the moon's surface that was identical to the ones worn on the spacesuits of the crew.

It fetched $62,500, slightly more than the top estimate, and was signed by the astronauts - Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins - on the historic mission.

An American flag carried by Aldrin into lunar orbit brought in $47,500, double its low estimate, and an Apollo 11 flight plan sheet sold for $37,500.

Hatton said space memorabilia has a nostalgic appeal for collectors. Many people remember when the Apollo 11 landed on the moon.

"It was the first time we set foot on the moon. Anytime we do a first thing it is a big deal," Hatton added. "There is also a more general interest from the public in science and space exploration. We haven't had a space program in a long time and it speaks to people's desire to see it happen again."

Another popular item was the Mercury Era spacesuit. It fetched $43,750, five times its low estimate, after lengthy bidding. The spacesuit was from the start of the U.S. human space exploration program, the Mercury Project, that launched the first American into space. The last flight was in 1963.

A rare Russian Strizh spacesuit, one of only 27 made, expected to sell for $20,000 failed to reach its reserve price, which Bonhams would not reveal. Many of the suits cosmonauts used for tests and training from 1981 to 1991 were damaged or destroyed.

But a control panel from the Mir Space Station, which had an estimate of $6,000, went to the highest bidder for $9,375.

(Reporting by Patricia Reaney; Editing by Eric Kelsey and Meredith Mazzilli)

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