by Donald and Tamara Boggs
For centuries, human beings have looked to the sky and wondered about the lights they have seen there. Even today, our understanding of the heavens is rather modest. But we have at least escaped the atmosphere of our earth and have traveled to its natural satellite, the moon, even if this is only a tiny fraction of what lies beyond.
These voyages, manned and unmanned to low earth orbit, our moon, and the planets of our sun have been difficult, expensive, and dangerous. But we have reaped enormous practical benefits as a result and have demonstrated a uniqueness of human beings among the animals—that we have by our own means, left the safety of our world.
Only a few hundred of us have done so—the rest of us must experience the voyages vicariously, through films, videotapes, and books. Oh, what marvelous books there are! In fact, there are too many in the field of space exploration for most of us to collect.
Narrowing the Field
Fortunately, we can narrow the field. We might start by gauging our interests. Why do I care about this area? Am I more interested in manned flights or unmanned? U.S. space programs? Soviet? French? Because of NASA's statutory mandate to educate the public and disseminate information about space exploration, their Public Affairs and History offices regularly print books. Some collectors seek out the NASA Special Publications (SPs) or Educational Publications (EPs).
Astronaut biographies and autobiographies can be easily collected. Often, collectors will seek signed copies of these books because of the personal connection to the subject. Although some people might disagree, it's a joy for us to hold and see a signed book, not for any possible increase in monetary value, but for the sake of moving just a bit closer to the achievements of that person.
When beginning a collection, consider limiting your scope to particular space program or project. For example, perhaps only 40 or 50 books have been published that are exclusively devoted to Project Gemini. On the other hand, there are easily hundreds and perhaps over 1,000 books on Project Apollo. Some collectors limit themselves to particular spacecraft like Soyuz, Vostok, Ranger, Voyager, the space shuttle, or Dyna-Soar. Others may be more concerned with the political aspects of spaceflight, congressional publications, space law, international cooperation, technical matters, satellite communication, biomedicine, or a host of other fields.
The beauty of collecting books on space exploration is that it potentially touches virtually every other discipline. At this point, archaeology might be an exception, but who knows what we may find eventually elsewhere in this universe?
Paying the Bills
Used books in this area truly run the gamut from the inexpensive to the unaffordable (for most of us). Astronaut biographies in the popular press may sell for as little as $10 to $15 in good condition. Obviously first editions and fine copies in fine dust jackets garner more. Certain NASA publications released in small press runs may run from $75 to $300 or even more. As in any field, scarcity and condition make the difference. For example, because several U.S. space centers are located in humid, high temperature climates, it's very typical to see faded spines and moisture damage to NASA technical publications. At the other extreme, a first edition copy of First on the Moon signed by the Apollo 11 crew of Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin may sell for several thousand dollars. Within the past year, such a copy inscribed to Guenter Wendt, the man who closed out the Command Module before flight, sold at auction for about $6,000. Imagine the value of the copy inscribed to Werhner von Braun!
If you are a beginning collector, be aware of at least two pitfalls in collecting in this area. First, there are several book club editions (BCE) that cost considerably less than the first editions and in some cases do not contain the full text of the first. In the case of the book We Seven, the book club editions are poorly bound and often are cracked at the spine.
A second caveat has to do with signed editions. As popular interest in collecting in this area has increased, we've also seen an increase in forgeries of astronaut signatures and the passing off of autopens (mechanical reproductions of signatures created from a template of a genuine signature) for authentic signatures. In fairness, many of these are unintentional, as beginners buying and selling on Internet auction sites may not have the expertise to spot the difference. Sometimes though, it is intentional, and it is easy for the beginner to be duped. Don't be afraid to collect signed volumes—but purchase from reputable booksellers who know the area and begin one's collection with Russ Still's Relics book, which includes both samples of authentic signatures and autopens.
A Final Thought
Ultimately, we collect for the joy of collecting. Space books are no different. They allow us to connect with a world most of us have not physically experienced, but wish we could. One of our favorite customers collects signed astronaut biographies for his four-year-old son, Reed. He is setting these aside for the day when Reed will be old enough to appreciate them. We suspect he collects them not for their monetary value, but out of the desire to share with Reed the joy he has felt in seeing humans further explore this universe. We believe that Reed will share that joy as well.
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A Listing of NASA Educational (EPs) & Special (SPs) Publications by Donald and Tamara Boggs - Since 1962, NASA has published hundreds of educational and special publications for the public as part of its mission to share the results of its research. Knowing that many persons collect all or some of the books in the series, we thought it might be helpful to compile a listing.
Here's a sample:
|SP-0411 ||The Apollo Soyuz Test Project Medical Report |
|SP-0412 ||Apollo—Soyuz Test Project Summary Science Report (2 volumes) |
|SP-0413 ||Settlements in Space: A Design Study |
|SP-0414 ||On the Habitability of Mars: An Approach to Planetary Ecosynthesis |
|SP-0415 ||Flutter Testing Techniques |
|SP-0416 ||Aircraft Safety and Operating Problems |
|SP-0417 ||A Geological Basis for the Exploration of the Planets |
|SP-0418 ||Lunar Sample Studies |
|SP-0419 ||The Search for Extraterrestrial Life: SETI |
|SP-0420 ||Voyager to Jupiter and Saturn |
Contact Donald and Tamara at email@example.com on how to see the entire list or for more information.
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