One of the few surviving Soviet Sputniks created during Russia’s Cold War space race with the United States sold at auction at Bonhams for $847,500 on Wednesday, September 27. The piece sold was a full-scale vintage test model of the Sputnik-1 satellite, built at the S. P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia in 1957, sometime prior to the launch of the Sputnik-1. This model was originally constructed for electromagnetic compatibility and electromagnetic interference testing.
Sputnik-1 was a turning point in the space race. When it launched into Earth’s orbit on October 4, 1957, it was a propaganda exercise designed to showcase Russia’s technological superiority over the U.S. Sputnik-1 was visible around the globe and anyone with a shortwave receiver was able to pick up its signal. What followed was a crisis for the United States, since the successful launch of Sputnik also demonstrated that the Soviets had the technological capabilities to launch a nuclear mission at America.
Ultimately, Sputnik galvanized America’s interest in regaining its lost edge in the space race. On January 31, 1958, the United States launched its first satellite, the Explorer I. Later that year, Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which created NASA. A few years later, newly elected President John F. Kennedy pledged to citizens of the U.S. that America would send man to the Moon before the 1960s were out. In other words, this prototype is a pretty darn crucial part of 20th century world history.
The vintage test model was part of the Bonhams auction house’s Air and Space Sale. It comprised the test model of the Sputnik-1 satellite, an aluminum sphere with four spring-mounted external antennae; live transmitter; modern 12 volt power supply; manganese brass stand; and an original Tesla Maj 620A broadcast receiver. Altogether, the satellite and its stand weigh around 100 pounds and stand 78 inches in height.
It was previously a part of a collection belonging to Heinz Miller of Austria. Bonhams did not reveal the identity of the new buyer, other than to tell Digital Trends that it was a telephone bidder. The original estimated asking price for the lot was $100,000 to $150,000. A similar Sputnik replica sold by Bonhams for $269,000 in 2016.
Other highlights of the auction included $50,000 for a Neil Armstrong Apollo-era training glove, $25,000 for a Soviet LK-3 Lunar Lander model, and $25,000 for a Russian KHOLOD 5D67 HFL rocket engine.
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