Hundreds of highly collectible science-themed items will be up for grabs at Sotheby’s annual Geek Week auction in New York. While the attendees will get a chance to bid for items such as a claw of a 66-million-year-old dinosaur, a meteorite, and a piece of the moon, the Sotheby’s auction also includes a pair of incredibly valuable relics from the personal collection of Apollo 11 lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin. It’s the broken circuit breaker switch that nearly ended the lives of the Apollo 11 Crew and the famous pen that ultimately proved to be the savior. Before we discuss the details of the auction, it’s important to talk about the incredible story of the pen and the broken switch from the Apollo 11 mission.
While performing humankind’s first-ever moonwalk, or perhaps after re-entering the lunar module following the moonwalk, one of the Apollo 11 astronauts accidentally and unknowingly broke off a small, black plastic switch from the circuit breaker panel. The problem was it wasn’t just any other switch. It was the critical engine arm switch necessary to fire back the module’s engines in order to head back from the lunar surface and dock with the command module. Realizing that the whole mission was in jeopardy, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong reported the incident to Houston to work on the problem and started exploring options to fix the problem.
After recognizing most ideas were not going to fix the life-threatening problem, Buzz realized he had the perfect tool to get them out – the Duro “Rocket” pen that both the astronauts had been using during the mission. The lunar module pilot jammed the pen’s plastic tip into the hole left by the broken switch and miraculously was able to fire back the engines, not only saving themselves but also the historic moon mission and the future of the Apollo program. The two items have been a part of Buzz’s personal collection ever since NASA presented them to him after successfully completing the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.
The pen and the broken switch are accompanied by a provenance letter by Buzz Aldrin himself that narrates the entire incident. The black felt-tip pen has a brushed aluminum body with an integrated pocket clip on the cap that is stamped with “Rocket” and a Velcro swatch attached to it. The broken switch and the pen have a pre-sale estimate between $1 million and $2 million. The online auction is already underway and the live auction will take place on July 28.