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A Space Odyssey

Sheila Gibson Stoodley

In November 2011, Heritage offered a lunar module activation checklist that Jim Lovell used while aboard Apollo 13, the infamously harrowing lunar flight turned rescue mission. A replica of the checklist appeared in a key scene of the Ron Howard–directed film Apollo 13, which no doubt influenced the winning bid of $388,375. The sale would have set a Heritage house record for space material, but NASA stepped in, questioning Lovell’s ownership of the checklist. The inquiry prompted Heritage to place the artifact into storage until the issue was resolved.

NASA officials met with Apollo astronauts Lovell, Rusty Schweickart, Gene Cernan, and Charlie Duke in January 2012 to discuss the matter, with the upshot that all of the material that the astronauts had received for their missions remained government property. Because no paperwork existed that formally transferred ownership from the government to the astronauts, the only recourse for the astronauts was to ask Congress to pass a law to that effect. In September 2012, President Obama signed a bill declaring that the astronauts who participated in NASA programs from Mercury (1959) to Apollo-Soyuz (1975) were the rightful owners of the artifacts that came into their possession. “If anyone is wondering if Congress ever works, it does,” says Howard C. Weinberger, the senior space consultant at Heritage. “By law, all the items that the astronauts ever claimed [to be theirs], are theirs.”

When the law passed, Massachusetts native Lawrence McGlynn uncorked a bottle of Champagne and celebrated. The 60-year-old collector has dedicated most of his life to assembling a world-class space memorabilia collection that includes everything from timepieces used on the surface of the moon to a wide array of tools and equipment used over the course of those lunar missions. But when complications arose following that 2011 auction of Jim Lovell’s artifacts, McGlynn surveyed the numerous pieces of astronaut memorabilia on display in his home and feared that the items were not only worthless, but also vulnerable to being reclaimed by the government.

Though it is welcomed by collectors, the new law comes at a curious time, since the astronauts who were with NASA during its glory days are no longer the main sources for the material that enters the market today. Collectors now fill that role. The law also fails to cover astronauts who served in the space shuttle program, or members of the NASA ground crew. “After 1986 [prompted by the Challenger disaster], NASA clamped down and didn’t let anything out, and they’re not going to let anything out in the future,” McGlynn says, suggesting that the only artifacts that will be made available to collectors are those associated with the infancy of human space travel.

The recently passed law protects virtually all of McGlynn’s collection, which includes some unusual items. His bathroom is decorated with the personal toiletries kit used by Skylab 2 pilot Paul Weitz, and McGlynn half-jokingly claims that he plans to assemble a set of space food and cutlery for display in his kitchen.

The collector owns more conventional collectibles too, including an Apollo 11–flown flag inscribed by Aldrin, and original space art, including a canvas by Bean, who devoted himself to painting depictions of lunar adventures after he retired from NASA. “I was once called the black hole of space collecting,” McGlynn remarks, commenting on his omnivorous appetite for material. “I’m not going to the moon, but I can bring the moon to me.” 

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