Vintage Soviet Spacecraft Fetches Nearly $2.9 Million at Auction

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A vintage Vostok space capsule is headed back to its homeland with its new Russian owner, who bought the relic of the early days of human spaceflight for nearly $2.9 million during Sotheby’s auction April 12. It is believed to be the most anyone has ever paid for a space artifact.

Sotheby’s sold the Vostok 3KA-2 capsule to Russian businessman Evgeny Yurchenko during an auction that marked the 50th anniversary of the first human spaceflight by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who launched aboard a different Vostok capsule April 12, 1961. Yurchenko, who is the chairman of the investment fund AS Popov, paid a total of $2,882,500 for the Vostok 3KA-2 space capsule, and plans to return it to Russia, Sotheby’s officials said. The Vostok auction set an apparent record for space memorabilia sales and is one of the few examples of space memorabilia that have sold for more than $1 million.

The Vostok 3KA-2 space capsule launched into space 20 days before Gagarin’s historic first human spaceflight aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft. The unmanned Vostok 3KA-2 capsule carried a life-size mannequin nicknamed Ivan Ivanovich and a dog called Zvezdochka (“Little Star” in Russian). Sotheby’s officials expected the space capsule to be sold for between $2 million and $10 million, the auction house had said.

The Vostok 3KA-2’s spherical cabin is about 2.5 meters in diameter and made of aluminum alloy, according to a Sotheby’s description. The capsule once contained about 800 kilograms of equipment, but the interior has been stripped for security reasons.

“The Vostok 3KA-2 space capsule is a historic artifact of the Soviet space program,” Yurchenko said in a statement. “Its successful return to Earth from space gave the green light for Gagarin’s spectacular achievement. Until now, the Vostok 3KA-2 space capsule was the only one of its kind outside of Russia, and with the support and participation of Sotheby’s, I will be able to bring it home.”

Yurchenko said it was especially meaningful for him to buy the Vostok capsule on the anniversary of Gagarin’s spaceflight.

“I hope that Vostok will take its rightful place in one of the national museums devoted to the history of the formation of the Russian space program,” Yurchenko added.