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Since 1638, when John Wilkins published the first serious work on the possibility of space exploration, The Discovery of a World in the Moone, people have been fascinated by the travel beyond the earth’s atmosphere. But nearly 300 years passed before any real progress was made toward that dream. In 1926, Robert Goddard successfully launched the first rocket, sending a liquid-fueled projectile just over forty feet in the air. He had outlined his ideas in A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes, a paper published by the Smithsonian Institution in late 1919. This thin book, ridiculed by many at the time, is the founding document of the space age. Unfortunately, Goddard’s research went largely unheeded at home. German scientists, however, studied his work, and under the leadership of Wernher von Braun, began experiments that led to the development of the V-2 rocket, which rained explosives on London late in the Second World War.

Despite Nazi ties, von Braun was too valuable to leave in Europe after the war. He was brought to the United States, where he played a key role in developing the Saturn-V rocket used to send Neil Armstrong to the moon. After Armstrong and his colleague Buzz Aldrin made the first moonwalks, ten other Apollo program astronauts followed in their footsteps. NASA replaced the Apollo rockets with the current space shuttle in the 1970s. Today, it’s hard to imagine the tremendous engineering feat this was. The average desktop PC you are using to read this web page had more computing power than most of the mainframes used to design the Apollo and shuttle vehicles. The two shuttle accidents underscore how dangerous space exploration still is.


The excitement of space travel, the bravery of the astronauts, and the tremendous technical challenges of rocket science overcame have captivated space collectors for two generations. They approach the subject in a number of different ways. People interested in Goddard’s experiments seek out the scientific books and papers that led to the development of modern rockets. Other collectors, entranced by space travel as modern-day voyages of exploration, tend to focus on the men and women who made it possible, particularly the astronauts. Signed books and autographs are very popular. In a third class of space collectibles are “flown” items, meaning objects that were sent into space. This includes clothing, parts of spacecraft, and anything else astronauts took with them.

Generally speaking, scientific materials from before 1945 and anything related to Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, the Mercury seven astronauts, and the Apollo 11 mission to the moon command top prices. According to Joachim Koch, of Books Tell You Why in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, USA, his customers focus on signed books “by people who have been on the moon.” But he said, collecting memoirs by astronauts in unsigned first editions “is still an affordable area.” Even autographed first editions by most of the astronauts who followed Armstrong, Aldrin, and their command module pilot, Michael Collins, are relatively inexpensive. For example, signed copies of Eugene Cernan’s book, Last Man on the Moon, can be had for less than $150.

Useful References

America in Space: An Annotated Bibliography, by Russell Tobias. Pasdena: Salem Press, 1991. 327 pages.

An Annotated Bibliography of the Apollo Program, by Roger Launius and J. D. Hunley. Washington, DC: NASA, 1994.

Collecting the Space Race, Price Guide Included by Stuart Schneider. Atglen, Penn.: Schiffer Publishing, 1993. Focuses on artifacts and popular culture.

 

Ten Collectible Books

Founding Father

A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes

Robert Goddard’s A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitude, first published in 1919, suggested that a rocket of sufficient size could leave the earth’s atmosphere. In this pamphlet, he explored the engineering practicalities for a multi-stage rocket, the system ultimately adopted to send men to the moon fifty years later. Price: Up to $10,000

This Copy | First Editions | 1946 American Rocket Society Reprint | Modern Reprints

V Is for Vengence

Ballistics

The V-2 rockets used by the Nazis were named after the German word for vengeance. That technology became the basis for rockets and missiles in the post-war era. The first book on the subject, Ballistics of the Future, first appeared in the Netherlands in 1946. $400 and up.

This Copy | First Edition | First U.S. Edition

 

Early Space Books

After David Lasser’s very scarce 1931 book, The Conquest of Space, the second book on space exploaration Charles Philp’s Stratosphere and Rocket Flight (Astronautics): A Popular Handbook on Space Flight of the Future, Including a Section on the Problems of Interplanetary Space Navigation. It is particularly scarce in a dust jacket. Up to $2,000.

First Edition | Revised Edition

Before Computers

The title of Tables for the Design of Missiles does not refer to furniture, but rather to page after page compiling the results of complex calculations. It’s not the most exciting book, but it is important for two reasons. First, portions of the work were prepared by Grace Hopper, a pioneering female computer scientist, and second, the book brings home the fact that most rocket development work to this point (1948) had been done without computers. $125 and up.

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Sputnik

Soviet Writings on Earth Satellites and Space Books

The Soviets shocked the West when they launched Sputnik, the first satellite, into earth’s orbit in October 1957. Soon books on the Soviet space program began to appear. Soviet Writings on Earth Satellites and Space Travel, edited by Ari Sternfeld, provides translations of popular accounts of the sputniks as they appeared in the Russian press. Under $100

This U.K. Edition | First Editions | First U.K. Editions

Mercury Seven

We Seven

Beginning in 1959, NASA began an aggressive series of rocket tests with the goal of putting a man in space. Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet pilot, beat Alan Shepard into space by about three weeks in the spring of 1961. By 1963, six of the seven American astronauts had orbited the earth. We Seven, a book by the Mercury program astronauts, is one of the most popular books on the subject. Nice unsigned copies are less that $75. Signed copies can cost twenty times as much.

First Editions | Signed Copies | Easton Press Edition

German Mastermind

History of Rocketry and Space Travel

Wernher von Braun worked on the German V-2 program and played a key role in the development of the American space program. His History of Rocketry and Space Travel is a good introduction to the subject. The book was issued in a striking leather limited edition ($50 and up) and trade edition, which is quite scarce in a nice jacket ($50 and up).

Find This Copy | Leather Limited | First Trade Edition

Moon Walk

Moon Walk

Neil Armstrong, the first person to step foot on the moon, has written very little about his experience. Fellow moonwalker Buzz Aldrin was not so shy. Aldrin’s Return to Earth, about adjusting to life on the ground after his out-of-this-world experiences, was published in 1973. Signed first editions are under $250. First editions are $20 and up.

Signed First Editions | First Editions

Shuttle Challenger

Presidential Commission

Following the Apollo program, NASA developed the shuttle, a reusable space vehicle. To date, the shuttles have flown nearly 120 missions. Sadly, two of the crafts were destroyed in flight, killing 14 astronauts and underscoring how dangerous space travel still is. The five-volume Presidential Commission report on the Challenger accident is a key document from this period. Scarce complete sets run $600+.

Commission Report

Flown Items

Teleprinter Report

A very popular subset of space collecting is “flown” items, which can be anything (and we mean anything) launched into space and returned to earth. Favorites among collectors include uniform patchesand pieces of spacecraft. Those who love paper can find logbooks, checklists, and even teleprinter reports. From $85.

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