Thursday, October 1, 2009

Looking to 1969 as Heritage readies for Oct. 8 Space Auction, or From the Pen of Michael Riley

Oct. 1, 2009
Posted by Noah, written by Michael Riley

(One week from today will be our Oct. 8 Space Exploration Auction here at Heritage, one of my most favorite categories. I have had occasion to write about several of the pieces in this auction, but it is Chief Cataloger and Historian Michael Riley who is truly the expert, and a superb writer to boot. I'm fortunate to be a writer among many good ones in this company, and I hold Michael among the very best. His work on Space auctions is epic, his feel for the material unequaled and his ability to relay its sociological, material and historical context simply superb. Michael has generously consented to let me post his "bidder letter" from the front of the catalog, presented here with minor editing to blog style. It is equal parts an invitation to bid, an explanation of the material and a reflection on the tumultuous, exciting days that surrounded the 1969 moon landing. Well done, Michael, and thanks! - Noah Fleisher)

"Welcome to another amazing collection of space-related collectibles. Once again our astronaut and private collector consignors have come through with important flown and signed memorabilia, items for every level of collecting expertise and budget. From photos and philatelic covers signed by the astronauts to charts, maps, souvenirs, and pieces of spacecraft equipment that actually flew with them on their missions, even to the moon.

Can it really have been 40 years?

While working on this catalog, your writer flashed back many times to that important year of 1969; what a year it was! As a high school student during that period of great change, I was a fan of sports, popular culture, rock music, and the "space race." I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at the year that America landed on the moon. What else was going on?

The year started out big for football fans. This was when the major college bowl games were all played on Jan. 1. The Rose Bowl was a classic with Woody Hayes' #1 Ohio State Buckeyes defeating John McKay's #2 USC Trojans, 27-16. USC senior running back O. J. Simpson ran for 171 yards, but for naught.

After that, the underdogs dominated the major sports. In the first AFL-NFL Championship game to actually be called the Super Bowl, the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts met a New York Jets team whose quarterback, Joe Namath, had controversially "guaranteed" a win. He came though on his promise, 16-7. In the NBA championship series, the Lakers, with stars Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, and Jerry West, were expected to rout the aging, fourth-place finishing Boston Celtics. In an exciting series, the Celtics, coached by Bill Russell, won the title, beating the Lakers in game seven, on the road (a first). Fast forward to October: Gil Hodges' New York Mets had finally managed a winning season and found themselves facing Earl Weaver's Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. Five games later, the "Miracle Mets" had done what nobody thought they could possibly accomplish.

There were legends that died that year: boxer Rocky Marciano and figure skater Sonja Henie. There were future superstars, though, that were born: Emmitt Smith, Steffi Graf, Brett Favre, and Ken Griffey Jr. to name a few.

It was a tumultuous year in world politics. The United States involvement in the Vietnam War was in its tenth year but had peaked the year before; 1969 actually saw the first U.S. troop withdrawals. North Vietnam president Ho Chi Minh died that year as did U.S. World War II hero and President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The patriarch of the Kennedy family, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., also passed on in 1969. It was a year of beginnings too: Richard Nixon was inaugurated as president; Golda Meir became the first female prime minister of Israel; and Warren Burger was sworn in as chief justice of the Supreme Court.

On a lighter note, the top five movies for the year were certainly a mixed bag: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; The Love Bug; Midnight Cowboy; Easy Rider; and Hello, Dolly! The year saw the release of the last Warner Brothers "Looney Tunes" cartoon as well as the premier of several iconic television programs, The Brady Bunch, Monty Python's Flying Circus, and Sesame Street.

That all-encompassing category of "Pop Culture" had no shortage of 1969 entries. It was a year of "firsts:" the Boeing 747 made its debut; the Stonewall Riots in NYC marked the beginning of the Gay Rights movement in the U.S.; the first ATM was installed in Rockville Centre, New York; retail giant Wal-Mart incorporated; Dave Thomas opened his first Wendy's; the Woodstock Festival was held in upstate New York; and the first message was sent over ARPANET, the early forerunner to today's internet. On a another computer-related note, Linux developer Linus Torvalds was born in Helsinki, Finland.

It was also a year of sadness and death: the venerable Saturday Evening Post ceased publication after 147 years; the Charles Manson-led "family" committed the Tate/LaBianca murders; "beat" culture icon Jack Kerouac died; and the peace and love that had characterized Woodstock a few months earlier didn't quite carry over to the west coast Altamont festival where a concertgoer was stabbed to death by a Hell's Angel member during the Rolling Stones set. Many call that event the end of the '60s.

Speaking of music, 1969 was one of the most eventful of a generation. The Beatles were the most popular, creative, and successful rock band of the 1960s. This was the year of many milestones for them, not all of a positive nature as their tenure as the "fab four lads from Liverpool" faded away: they gave their last public performance in January on the roof of Apple Records; they recorded (and released) their last album as a group, Abbey Road; Paul McCartney married his "Lovely Linda" Eastman in London; and John Lennon married Yoko Ono in Gibraltar, later conducting their "Bed-In" for peace in Montreal where they recorded "Give Peace a Chance," the first solo single released by a Beatle.

After seven years away from the top of the charts, Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds" hit number one on Billboard, the final time he would do so in his lifetime.

Many people would call 1969 the birth year of the heavy metal genre with the release of Led Zeppelin I. The Rolling Stones hired a young guitar player, Mick Taylor, to replace one of their founding members, Brian Jones, who died a mysterious death in his home swimming pool. The Jackson Five's first album was released, starting a 40 year reign as pop royalty for Michael. A British single about a fictional astronaut, by then-unknown David Bowie, flew up the charts after its release just days before the launch of Apollo 11. Fortunately, Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins had a much more successful flight than did Major Tom of "Space Oddity" fame.

That brings us back to why we're here: The year 1969 saw the launch of four Apollo missions. NASA's year was ushered in on a high note, just days after Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders returned from the first-ever manned mission to the moon.

Next on the agenda was to test the major components and activities of a moon-landing mission, but in Earth orbit. From March 3-13, James McDivitt, Dave Scott, and Rusty Schweickart put the Apollo 9 Lunar Module Spider through its paces, proving it worthy for lunar orbit testing. That came along shortly thereafter when Apollo 10 (May 18-26), with Tom Stafford, John Young, and Gene Cernan aboard, was launched to the moon with the task of performing a full "dress rehearsal" of the upcoming landing mission.

The Lunar Module, Snoopy, traveled to within eight or so miles of the lunar surface before rendezvousing and docking with the Command Module, Charlie Brown, for the trip home. The stage was now set to realize the goal President John F. Kennedy had set seven years earlier: landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth before the decade was over.

Of course, we all know of the success of the Apollo 11 mission in reaching that important aspiration. Things were now moving with an unheard-of rapidity. Not once, but twice, did America land on the moon that year. November 14, 1969, found the Apollo 12 crew of Charles Conrad, Richard Gordon, and Alan Bean on their way to the moon for a pinpoint landing just 200 yards from the old unmanned Surveyor 3 probe.

During the three years to follow, another five Apollo missions made attempts, with four succeeding, to land on the moon. The 12 men who actually walked on the lunar surface and the other twelve men who made the long journey are all modern heroes of exploration and technology. They are revered for their hard work, spirit of adventure, and bravery. This auction brings to the average person the honor of owning just a little piece of our own space history. We are honored to be able to bring these historic items to you...

Best regards,
Michael Riley
Chief Cataloguer and Historian

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-Posted by Noah Fleisher, written by Michael Riley.

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