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Sotheby’s To Auction Off Vostok Space Capsule

February 25, 2011

A historic Soviet space capsule will be going up for sale at Sotheby’s in New York with a pre-sale price tag that is estimated to be in the millions.

Sotheby’s will auction the spherical Vostok 3KA-2 Space Capsule on April 12, the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight by Soviet cosmonaut Yury Gagarin.

The spacecraft has significant historical credentials, as it is the model used for the final dummy run before Gagarin made his historic voyage. The capsule is expected to bring between $2 million and $10 million when it hits the auction block.

“Not only are there no other examples outside of Russia of the world’s first spacecraft, this capsule was pivotal in space history as providing the green light for Gagarin’s spectacular achievement,” Sotheby’s vice chairman David Redden told AFP.

The craft can be viewed in the Manhattan lobby of Sotheby’s ahead of the auction.

The capsule was sent into space on March 25, 1961. It carried a life-sized human dummy and a small dog named Zvezdochka — meaning “Little Star.” The capsule completed one orbit, then reentered the atmosphere and parachuted safely back to Earth.

A Russian scientist who witnessed the landing described the wreckage as an “enormous animal driven too hard, lying in a narrow snow-covered gully, the snow melting around the charred and still hot body” of the craft.

A successful recovery of the dummy and the dog — which was unharmed — meant that Gagarin’s flight could go forward.

The capsule is blackened on the bottom from the scorching reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. The top half of the outer shell is bronze in color and bears a huge dent. The inside of the capsule is littered with the remains of old wires and the ejector seat.

“These were very primitive,” said Redden. “There was a good shot that whoever went into space was not coming back.”

Sotheby’s expects wealthy individuals to bid on the craft, which is now owned by an anonymous American.

Redden said he feels that whoever wins the bidding on this piece of history, would ideally loan the relic to a museum. “It’s a big thing to take home,” he added.

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