Parts from the Apollo 11 Columbia Command Module Are Coming to Auction

James Ardis
Published on

Julien’s Auctions presents controls used by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins on their first-to-the-moon mission.

Photo of Earth taken during the Apollo 11 space mission.
Photo of Earth taken during the Apollo 11 space mission.

The Apollo 11 space mission fulfilled the late President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 goal to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. Despite Apollo 11’s success feeling pre-ordained in hindsight, the three crew members have often reflected on how difficult the task was. “I think of a flight to the moon as being a long and fragile daisy chain of events,” Apollo 11 crew member Michael Collins told PBS. “[If] any one of those links breaks, everything downstream from that is useless.”

This month, parts from the Apollo 11 Columbia command module that made that daisy chain of events possible will cross the auction block in a Julien’s Auctions sale. Each piece was used by at least one of the mission’s three crew members: Michael Collins, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and the late Neil Armstrong. Bidding will occur live in Beverly Hills, California, as well as online on Friday, July 17th and Saturday, July 18th.

Apollo 11 launched on July 16th, 1969 from present-day Cape Canaveral, Florida. Spectators camped out for several nights to ensure a good view from outside the space center. “It went smoothly, and at last we were on our way,” recalls Buzz Aldrin of the launch.

Translation controller from the Columbia control panel used during the Apollo 11 space mission. Photo courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.
Translation controller from the Columbia control panel used during the Apollo 11 space mission. Photo courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

Had there been any issues at the launch, Commander Neil Armstrong would have turned his translational control stick counterclockwise to abort the mission. That controller (USD 80,000 – $100,000) will be among the pieces of the Columbia command module available in the Julien’s Auctions event. Like several other Apollo 11 lots, the control stick comes mounted in a wooden display alongside an Apollo 11 mission patch and an official NASA removal tag.

Four days after the launch, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans ever to walk on the moon. An estimated 600 million people watched the event live, 20% of the world’s population at that time. Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin described the moon as “beautiful desolation.” When asked years later to elaborate further, Aldrin said, “I guess I said that because it was magnificent we had gotten there, and it looked pretty desolate.”

One of the lots representing Aldrin in this auction is a secondary rotational attitude control stick from the Columbia command module ($100,000 – $200,000). Aldrin used this to provide secondary control for the spacecraft’s orientation. It was located on the astronaut’s right-hand side. Collectors will notice a trigger on the stick, which activated Aldrin’s headset.

Attitude control stick from the Columbia control panel used during the Apollo 11 space mission. Photo courtesy of Julien’s Auctions
Attitude control stick from the Columbia control panel used during the Apollo 11 space mission. Photo courtesy of Julien’s Auctions

Collins, Aldrin, and Armstrong ventured together on the Apollo 11 mission. Even before the launch, NASA was aware that the first person to walk on the moon would hold a particular place in the American consciousness. It was originally supposed to be Aldrin who would walk first on the moon, recalled the late BBC aviation and space correspondent Reginald Turnill. Then NASA realized “the grave Armstrong… was much more suited to the role than Aldrin, a brilliant and outspoken mathematician, always liable to challenge and disagree with authority.”

Another piece of the Columbia command module used by Armstrong coming to auction is an attitude control stick ($100,000 – $200,000). Like the Aldrin attitude stick, this allowed Armstrong to control the spacecraft’s orientation with roll, pitch, and yaw adjustments.

Photo of Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon available in this Julien’s Auctions event. Picture courtesy of the auction house.
Photo of Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon available in this Julien’s Auctions event. Picture courtesy of the auction house. 

These and other Apollo 11 and NASA lots will come to auction as part of the event’s fourth session on Saturday, July 18th, at 1:00 PM PDT. Interested bidders can register on the Julien’s Auctions website.