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Buzz Aldrin on the moon
A photograph of Buzz Aldrin on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission, signed by the astronaut himself, is among the hundreds of items offered at a space-themed auction this week. The print is expected to sell for $2,500 to $3,500. (Credit: NASA via Bonhams)

Forty-seven years ago this week, NASA’s Apollo 11 mission put humans on the moon for the first time – and although we don’t currently have the hardware to do that again, the anniversary offers opportunities to own a piece of past achievements in space.

For example, Bonhams auction house in New York is selling hundreds of artifacts from the U.S. and Russian space programs on Wednesday, the anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing. The big-ticket items include an Apollo 11 navigational chart that moonwalker Buzz Aldrin used during the mission, expected to go for as much as $35,000.

There’s also a Gemini training console, which duplicates the panels that were arrayed in NASA’s Gemini capsules and were used to train astronauts in the early 1960s. That’s expected to sell for $60,000 to $90,000. A Russian-style spacesuit that NASA astronaut Don Pettit wore when he rode a Soyuz craft down to Earth in 2003 has a pre-sale estimate of $25,000 to $30,000.

The live auction takes place in New York on Wednesday, but bids can also be placed online.

Another online auction, organized by Nate D. Sanders Auctions, is offering a wide spectrum of space memorabilia, including the in-flight instructions that John Glenn used when he became the first American to orbit Earth in 1962. The auction house has set a minimum bid of $25,000, with Thursday as the sale deadline. (For what it’s worth, Glenn turned 95 on Monday.)

Meanwhile, a Kickstarter project organized in Australia is planning to issue a high-quality reproduction of the 362-page Apollo 11 Flight Plan that served as the minute-by-minute reference for 1969’s historic mission.

CollectSpace’s Robert Pearlman notes that original copies of the flight plan have sold for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Reproduction IO, based in Melbourne, is offering the reproductions for $74 each. (The first 50 copies, priced at $67, are sold out.) The plans are to be shipped starting in December.

If you’re looking for a cheaper way to retrace each step of the Apollo flight plan, check out the PDF file on NASA’s website, or follow @ReliveApollo11 on Twitter. And if you really want to geek out, you can go to GitHub and study the 1960s programming code that sent Apollo 11 to the moon and back. The comments are the most entertaining part: For example, one commented-out part of the code reads: “TEMPORARY, I HOPE HOPE HOPE.”

Cislunar space outpost
Artwork shows an Orion spaceship docked to Orbital ATK’s cislunar outpost. (Credit: Orbital ATK)

So what about future plans for lunar exploration? Those are much rarer and pricier: More than a dozen teams are vying to win a share of the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize by the end of next year, but those commercial missions to the lunar surface will be strictly robotic.

NASA isn’t planning any missions to touch down on the lunar surface, and instead has signaled it’ll leave that part of the final frontier to its international partners as well as commercial ventures. The European Space Agency has been discussing plans for a “Moon Village,” and countries such as China and India have talked about sending crews to the lunar surface as a long-term possibility.

Meanwhile, United Launch Alliance and Orbital ATK have floated ideas for placing outposts in lunar orbit. Such outposts could serve as way stations for trips to the lunar surface, to other space operations in the region around the moon (known as cislunar space), or to Mars – which is the main focus of NASA’s long-term space exploration vision.

How does all this mesh with NASA’s plan to send people to Mars and its moons in the 2030s – or, for that matter, SpaceX’s evolving plan to get them there in the 2020s instead? We’ll be talking about that at 7 p.m. tonight at the Wilde Rover Irish Pub in Kirkland, Wash. The meet-up is part of the Pacific Science Center’s Science Café program. Come on down, lift a pint of Guinness … and lift your imagination to the skies above.

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