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Space Ball for Sale

Sheila Gibson Stoodley

If you walk past the windows of Sotheby’s Manhattan salesrooms between now and April 12, stop and look at the scorched metal sphere, seven and a quarter feet in diameter, displayed across from Rodin’s The Kiss. It is not a sculpture by Anish Kapoor; it is a piece of space history. In March 1961, the Soviet space program performed a test-flight with the Vostok 3KA-2 capsule that is currently at Sotheby’s. Secured inside were a mannequin named Ivan Ivanovich (which translates as “John Doe”) and a dog, Zvezdochka (“Starlet”), both clad in space suits. After retrieving the vessel and its passengers by sleigh from the landing site near Izhevsk and examining them thoroughly, Russian authorities decided that a Vostok could carry cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into low-earth orbit and return him home safely. The historic April 12, 1961, mission marked the first time that a human being flew into space.

Sotheby’s will offer the capsule on the 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s flight. “Looking at it, you get a sense of how brave Gagarin was,” says Sotheby’s vice chairman David Redden. “It was like being shot into space inside a small, round elevator without any control over it whatsoever.” He estimates that the Vostok will fetch between $2 million and $10 million. (www.sothebys.com)

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