Stratospheric bid grabs Apollo joystick at auction

Also sold: Buzz Aldrin's Apollo 11 glove and a backpack strap carried during both of Charles Conrad's Apollo 12 moonwalks.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
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Leslie Katz
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This rotational hand controller took a ride aboard the Apollo 15's Lunar Module Falcon. RR Auction

Astronaut Dave Scott maneuvered a spring-loaded joystick to land on the moon during Apollo 15, and now that little piece of big history has landed in someone else's hands.

The controller sold for $610,063 Thursday night to an unnamed online bidder in RR Auction's ongoing 7th Space and Aviation Autograph and Artifact Auction. That's believed to be the most paid, at a public auction at least, for a piece of NASA memorabilia, the Massachusetts-based auction house said. Earlier this year, the only known camera to have traveled to the moon and back sold for $908,000 in a private auction.

Checklists are always a good idea when you're going to the moon. This one from Apollo 11 is signed by Buzz Aldrin. RR Auction

The hand controller sat on the left side of the Lunar Module Falcon's cabin interior. Commander Scott used it to safely bring the module down to the right spot on the moon's surface in 1971, and also used it for the trip back to Earth.

A detailed 2014 two-page letter of authenticity accompanies the purchase, as does an explanation from Scott:

"I hereby certify that the Rotational Hand Controller (RHC) included with this letter was used to maneuver the Lunar Module 'Falcon' during the Apollo 15 descent and landing on the Moon; and after 3 days on the surface of the Moon, this RHC was used during lunar launch, ascent and rendezvous with the Command and Service Module, 'Endeavor,' in lunar orbit..."

The controller measures 4 inches by 10.5 inches by 7 inches and remains in impressive condition considering its epic travels decades ago. The communications trigger switch is still in place, and a screw on the front of the housing retains one of its wax tamper seals.

"There are space artifacts that need to be explained as to their original use, and then there are items like the Apollo 15 rotational hand controller that simply upon sight are self-evident as to their purpose," said Robert Pearlman, editor and founder of space history website CollectSpace.com. "We all can imagine what it must have been like to land on the moon, but to have the chance to grab hold of the very joystick that accomplished that feat is a priceless experience -- and at the same time, worth every bit of the more than half a million dollars it commanded at auction."

Additional items from Scott's personal collection have sold in the auction, including another piece of precision lunar module equipment that sold for $126,179 and a silver Apollo 11 Robbins Medal engraved with the last names of astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. It went for $38,069.

Other items already claimed in the auction include a right-hand nylon glove worn by Aldrin during the first moon landing, a 29-inch-long signed backpack strap from the PLSS (Personal Life Support System) worn during Charles Conrad's Apollo 12 moonwalks, and an American flag flown to the moon in 1970 on Apollo 13.

Space buffs needn't cast their eyes downward, however. Hundreds of other historic gems remain on the auction block, and those who don't have a few (thousand) pennies to spare can enjoy a rich trip back in time just by flipping through the expansive catalog.

This backpack strap went on lunar walks with Charles Conrad, commander of Apollo 12. RR Auction