In August 2017 two students were digging around in a thrift store when they stumbled upon a bunch of rare historical artifacts. And after they snapped them up for a mere $1.20, they now look set to reap astronomical profits. In fact, their discovery was pretty much out of this world.
Talia Rappa and Skyer Ashworth, bought the items at a closing-down sale of a Salvation Army store in Titusville, Florida. Both students are enrolled at Florida colleges, and the lucky find will help pay for part of their tuition fees.
What’s more, the items the pair purchased are so valuable that a prestigious museum has offered to auction them. And they could fetch as much as $20,000. Indeed, Ashworth and Rappa seem to have stumbled on the thrift find of a lifetime.
According to the students, the items were located in a plastic container in what Rappa has described as a “weird corner” of the store, according to CBS News. “It was under two other big totes,” Ashworth added to the network in August 2017. After moving the bags aside, Ashworth then found a bin containing a heap of old clothes. And after rummaging through them, he hit the jackpot.
What Ashworth found appeared to be six unique pieces of aerospace history: five NASA flight suits and a white control suit. “I’m digging through a whole bunch of sweaters and stuff, and I found the white one with the patch just kind of [lying] there,” he told CBS.
“He pulled them all out at first, then brought the whole handful over to me,” Rappa told CBS News. And then, Rappa said, her “jaw dropped.” Could the suits really be authentic? And if so, how on earth did they end up in a Titusville thrift store?
After examining the names and dates on their labels, specialists at the American Space Museum subsequently confirmed that they were indeed authentic. Furthermore, the suits appeared to have belonged to astronauts who were part of shuttle missions in the early to mid-1980s.
One of the suits bore the name of “Nelson.” This suggested that it had been worn by Bill Nelson, who famously flew on Space Shuttle Columbia in 1986. However, on closer examination, it seemed more likely to have belonged to George “Pinky” Nelson, a renowned physicist and educator.
Nelson was part of three shuttle missions during his astronautic career. During those, he clocked up 411 hours in space, including ten hours of extravehicular activity. His missions involved the deployment of satellites, testing equipment and science experiments, and he was subsequently inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2009.
A second suit appeared to have belonged to astronaut Robert Parker, a physicist and astronomer. Parker was a program scientist for Skylab – NASA’s inaugural orbital space station. He also served as mission specialist for the 1983 Spacelab-1 outing and 1990’s STS-35, both Space Shuttle Columbia flights.
Parker, who logged a total of 463 hours in space, received the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal in 1973 and the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal the following year. He then went on to direct a number of departments and programs at NASA before finally retiring in 2005.
And a third flight suit seemed to have been the property of Charles D. Walker. Walker made history as the first person not affiliated with the government to travel into space. Instead, he joined the space program as a payload specialist while working for McDonnell Douglas.
Assigned to Space Shuttle Discovery, his first mission in 1984 involved the deployment of three commercial communication satellites. He subsequently flew two more missions, amassing a total of 20 days in space. And, according to Walker himself, his performance demonstrated that a shuttle passenger could be “flight ready” after only a few months of training.
How the flight suits ended up in a Salvation Army thrift store is a mystery. It’s worth noting, though, that Titusville has a long association with the space program. Located on the Indian River, the city developed as a commercial and residential hub for Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center.
And despite the termination of the space shuttle program in 2011, aerospace companies continue to play an important role in the city’s economy. In fact, Titusville’s official motto is “Gateway to Nature and Space.” Its nicknames, meanwhile, have included “Space City USA” and “Miracle City.”
What’s more, both Ashworth and Rappa may be destined for careers in Titusville’s aerospace industry. Rappa, a junior at the University of Central Florida, is currently studying astrophysics. She told News 6 that she had always held an interest in space travel and would dearly love to play a part in NASA’s mission to Mars.
Meanwhile, Ashworth is due to begin an aerospace program at Eastern Florida State College. He told CBS News that the space program had played a big part in his family’s life. “My parents worked NASA communications with the shuttle program,” he explained. “And my grandfather even worked communications with the shuttle.”
With such personal connections to the space program, then, the duo’s discovery is all the more remarkable. And, charmingly, as well as using some of the profits from the suits’ sale to fund their studies, the students also intend to contribute a share to Titusville’s American Space Museum.
Developed in collaboration with the City of Titusville, the museum showcases historical exhibits that relate to the space program. These include a “U.S. Space Walk of Fame,” featuring tributes to American astronauts and NASA personnel. And the institution is planning to auction the flight suits in November 2017.
Meanwhile, Ashworth and Rappa may have made thrift store history for their remarkable find. After all, a markup of 2.5 million percent can only be described as stellar. But with any luck, the pair will make astronautic history, too, and take their own place on the museum’s walk of fame.