Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong made history when they became the first two people to set foot on the moon in the summer of 1969. Now, over 50 years later, Aldrin is auctioning off a selection of his personal items, including the jacket he wore during the Apollo 11 mission.
“This collection is a summation of my career as an astronaut,” Aldrin, 92, says in a statement. “After deep consideration, the time felt right to share these items with the world, which for many are symbols of a historical moment, but for me have always remained personal mementos of a life dedicated to science and exploration.”
The white jacket, viewed by the estimated 650 million people who watched the lunar landing on TV, is the only space-flown garment from that mission still owned by a private individual. As such, it’s expected to fetch upwards of $2 million at auction this week, according to Sotheby’s.
NASA designers made Aldrin’s inflight coverall jacket out of a new, durable, fireproof material called beta cloth. Historically, astronaut suits incorporated highly flammable materials like nylon, but the fatal Apollo 1 fire of 1967 forced NASA to develop a new solution.
The jacket still bears the Apollo 11 mission emblem, the United States flag, the NASA logo and Aldrin’s name, “E. Aldrin.” (Buzz is his nickname; his first name is Edwin.)
Aldrin is also selling the broken circuit breaker switch that, if not for his ingenuity and quick thinking, would’ve stranded him and Armstrong on the moon. To that same end, he’s also selling the felt-tip pen he used to ignite the lunar module’s engine and get the crew home safely. Those two items are expected to bring in between $1 and $2 million, per Sotheby’s.
“By some kind of miracle, the diameter of that plastic tip [was] the same as the diameter of the switch,” says Cassandra Hatton, Sotheby’s global head of science and popular culture, in a video, per USA Today’s Ariana Triggs. “And it fit perfectly in that hole and armed the engine and saved their lives.”
“Had the felt-tip pen not worked, I’m certain that Mission Control and the crew would have worked hard to find other ways to close the circuit so that the ascent engine could be fired,” William Barry, NASA’s chief historian, told History.com’s Lesley Kennedy in 2019. “But this was a serious situation—enough that on subsequent lunar modules a guard was installed over those circuit breakers to prevent a similar problem.”
At some point, a myth began circulating that the astronauts had used the Fisher Space pen to close the circuit, rather than the simple felt-tip pen.
“The myth endures, in part, because the Fisher Space Pen company knew an opportunity when it saw one,” Mark Strauss wrote for Smithsonian magazine in 2011. “They began promoting their product as the writing instrument that had ‘brought the astronauts home.’”
Aldrin is also selling the lunar module activations checklist that he was supposed to leave on the moon, but decided to bring back to Earth. The multi-page document, which is expected to bring in $150,000 to $250,000, features Aldrin’s and Armstrong’s handwritten notes.
The handmade “Go Army Beat Navy” banner that Aldrin brought with him on his 1966 Gemini 12 spacewalk is also up for auction. The banner was Aldrin’s cheeky response to the 1965 Gemini 6A mission, during which crew members put a “Beat Army” sign in the window of the spacecraft.
“This ‘Go Army Beat Navy’ banner is one of the few objects flown in Earth orbit and exposed to the vacuum of space,” writes Aldrin in a provenance letter, per Sotheby’s. “It is also a rare example of a handmade astronaut flight-certified object and, not to mention, a great ‘gotcha’ on the Navy guys."