Two years after it launched into a broadcast orbit around the world, “Space Dealers” has landed in the United States.
The reality TV show, which follows the exploits of three NASA-obsessed space memorabilia sellers, began streaming on Netflix in the U.S. and UK on Friday (Feb. 1). The six-part series, produced by WAGTV, first aired in 2017 in Australia and has in the interim been seen across Europe and Russia.
“For the right price, America’s leading space dealers will sell you anything and everything that the men and women with the ‘right stuff’ have used on their brave adventures in space,” writes the producers.
“Space Dealers” lightly parodies the real-life trade in NASA artifacts and Soviet-era space hardware. The rivalry between bowtie-sporting Larry, former NASA employee Torie and well-connected Cole sets up the drama, but it is the objects that they handle and the astronauts who they visit who are the stars of the show.
The Apollo 8 mission launched on Dec. 21, 1968 with astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell Jr. and William Anders on board. About two and half hours after liftoff, the S-IV third stage fired for a second time and put their spacecraft on a trajectory to the Moon. The crew members became the first humans to fly beyond low earth orbit.
The S-IV soon separated from the Apollo command service module and the spacecraft reached the Moon on Dec. 24th, going into orbit after the firing of the service module engine while on the far side. The crew orbited the Moon for 10 hours and would have been stuck there forever if the engine had not re-fired as planned. It did fire and the crew made it back to earth for a safe splashdown in the Pacific on Dec. 27th. The extremely risky mission was a tremendous success and its accomplishments made it possible for the US to achieve the goal set by John F. Kennedy of putting a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s.
What I find gratifying is that it appears my goal in writing the book in 1998 has been an unparalleled success. Today alone there have been three major stories celebrating Apollo 8 and its legacy, from the Washington Post, Scientific American, and New Atlas. In the past week there have another half dozen. I expect dozens more in the coming week. All so far have gotten their facts right, and have been able to tell the story correctly of this nerve-racking mission given 50-50 odds of success. More important, all have understood thoroughly the political and historical context of the mission, and the long term impact that it had.
December 21st will mark the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 8, the first time humans left earth orbit to reach another celestial object. While the landing on the surface of the Moon by Apollo 11 dominates the public’s view of America’s lunar program, it was the orbiting of the Moon by the terrifically dangerous and milestone-making Apollo 8 mission that actually marked the triumph of the USA in the 1960’s “Space Race” with the Soviet Union.
I recently listened to Bob Zimmerman’s book, Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8: The First Manned Mission to Another World. An audiobook version was released this year with a excellent reading by Grover Gardner. Bob nicely weaves a narrative of the Apollo 8 mission, from its conception to capsule splashdown, with captivating portraits of the three astronauts and vivid descriptions of the political and social upheavals of the time, especially the many dreadful events of the tumultuous year of 1968. (The book should disabuse young people of the notion that political polarization in the US today is something new or reaches the levels of other angry periods in the country’s history.)
We are blessed to still have them. Once again during the dinner presentation they talked of their mission, kidding each other repeatedly about what had happened, and talking about why they went and what they thought the future might hold. Borman was pessimistic about the future of space, but then he remains fixated on the concept of a government program for space. Anders meanwhile was in touch with the rise of private commercial space, and advocated that it is where the future lies.
Lovell was Lovell, as always a space cadet, enthused for the future exploration of space, no matter how we do it.
This event is likely only the beginning. Over the next year there are going to many similar events, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary the 1960s Apollo triumph, right through to the landing in July. To me, however, it will always be Apollo 8 that had the most historical impact. Everything that happened afterward merely reinforced what that flight taught us.
BTW: I had thought that George Mueller, head of the Office of Manned Space Flight during the Apollo era, played the key role in the decision to go to the Moon with Apollo 8. Mueller did successfully push the “all-up testing” approach in which the entire Saturn V would be tested altogether rather than incrementally, starting with dummy upper stages. This greatly reduced the number of test flights needed before the lunar missions could begin and was crucial in achieving JFK’s goal of reaching the Moon “before this decade is out“. However, as made clear in the book, it was in fact George Low, chief of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office (ASPO), who proposed and championed the radical idea of going all the way to the Moon on just the third flight of the Saturn V, the first flight with a command module, and the first flight with a crew. For more about Low and his role in Apollo 8, see The Man Who Won the Moon Race – Air & Space Magazine.
Today NASA has little of its 1960’s daring and risk-taking culture demonstrated by Apollo 8. The agency, for example, indicated recently after another Russian Soyuz failure, that it would rather let the 100 billion dollar International Space Station fall into the atmosphere for destruction rather than permit astronauts to travel to the station in new American vehicles whose builders have not yet checked every last box in the mountains of certification requirements created by the agency’s vast multi-center bureaucracy.
Sotheby’s on Thursday (Nov. 29) auctioned the only known pieces of Earth’s natural satellite to be collected from the lunar surface and be legally sold for $855,000. The three tiny pebbles were among a small cache of moon material that was brought back by the former Soviet Union’s Luna 16 robotic probe in 1970.
The same moon rocks — which were originally presented to Nina Ivanovna Koroleva, the widow of Sergei Korolev, the “Chief Designer” of the Soviet space program — were sold by Sotheby’s in December 1993 for $442,500. With inflation, Thursday’s sale in New York City reflected an increase of about $87,500.
Sotheby’s is holding a Space Exploration auction in New York today. The space collectibles and memorabilia items on sale include actual material obtained from the Moon’s surface:
The top lot in the sale was originally sold in the 1993 Russian Space History Sale here at Sotheby’s – a sample of lunar rocks returned to Earth by the Russian Luna-16 unmanned mission. It was the first time a piece of another world had ever been offered for sale to the public. It remains to this day, the only known legal sale of moon rocks to have ever occurred. We look forward to once again offering this tremendously rare and historic artifact to the public.
In addition there is
a wide variety of material from both the American & Soviet space programs — from lunar & space photography, original artwork by artists such as Chesley Bonestell and Alan Bean, flown mission artefacts and hardware, items from the personal collections of astronauts, autographed items, maps & charts, signed books, models, spacesuits, and much more, with material suited for both new and seasoned collectors.
** Administrator Bridenstine Joins Washington Post Discussion: The New Space Age
The Washington Post hosted “Transformers: Space” which featured prominent speakers in the fields of space science and policy. The New Space Age discussion included NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye and Dr. Heidi Hammel, Vice President of the Board of Directors of the Planetary Society. These speakers discussed the most important issues on the country’s space agenda including the future of the International Space Station, America’s plans to return to the Moon, and the search for life in the cosmos.
** NASA Administrator Talks Training, Future Missions with Newest Astronaut Class
NASA’s newest class of astronaut trainees joined agency Administrator Jim Bridenstine Sept. 27 at NASA headquarters, to talk about their experiences in the training program, hopes for future missions, and more, in a live episode of “Watch This Space”.
Astronaut candidates Zena Cardman, Jasmin Moghbeli, Jonny Kim, Frank Rubio, Matthew Dominick, Warren Hoburg, Kayla Barron, Bob Hines, Raja Chari, Loral O’ Hara and Jessica Watkins were joined by Canadian Space Agency astronaut candidates Joshua Kutryk and Jenni Sidey-Gibbons. The first U.S. astronauts, the “Original Seven,” were selected in 1959. Since then, NASA has selected 21 more groups of astronauts. This latest class, announced on June 7, 2017, includes a physician, biologist, geologist, military pilots and engineers.
Once their training is complete, they may be assigned to any of a variety of missions, including: performing research on the International Space Station, launching from American soil on spacecraft built by U.S. commercial companies, and departing for deep space missions on NASA’s new Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket.
Ketchum spoke about his new book, To The Moon On A Slide Rule, and “early ICBM and rocket history, early space program, Surveyor missions, lunar surface, nuclear propulsion, NASA, SLS, Gateway and much more”.