Thrift shop bargain hunters find rare NASA flight suits

$1.20 purchase could fetch $12,000 to $20,000 at auction

TITUSVILLE, Fla. – Talia Rappa and Skyer Ashworth turned summer bargain shopping at a Titusville Thrift store closeout into the stuff of NASA collectors' legend when the central Florida college students paid 20 cents each for five rare NASA flight suits that experts say could be valued at $5,000 each or more.

“They were kind of in a weird corner," Rappa told News 6. “He (Skylar) pulled them all out at first, then brought the whole handful over to me.”

The five blue NASA flight suits, along with a white “control suit,” were in the bottom of a plastic bin tucked under some forgotten winter sweaters.

According to experts at the American Space Museum, the astronauts' names and flight dates on the white labels seem to match the time astronauts George “Pinky” Nelson, PhD, Robert A. Parker, PhD, and Charles D. Walker, a payload specialist , flew shuttle missions between 1983 and 1985.

At first, experts thought Nelson’s flight suit, a 38 small, was worn by Florida Senator Bill Nelson, but further investigation showed Senator Nelson didn’t fly a shuttle mission until 1986.

Rappa, a junior at UCF studying astrophysics, told News 6 she has always been fascinated with space travel and would love to be part of the MARS mission.

When the 20-year-old looked at the suits close up, she admits her “jaw dropped.”

Ashworth, 24, who was recently accepted into a college aerospace program at Eastern Florida State College, told News 6 the space program is in his family DNA.

“My parents worked NASA communications with the shuttle program," he said, “and my grandfather even worked communications with the shuttle.”

“It just blows my mind," Ashworth said, “It ( the bin holding the suits) was under two other big totes, I moved them off to the side and I’m digging through a whole bunch of sweaters and stuff, and I found the white one with the patch just kind of laying there.”

Chuck Jeffrey, a member of the board the American Space Museum in Titusville, and an avid NASA collector, purchased the fifth flight suit worn by STS-9 Astronaut Dr. Owen Garriot. Garriot, an amateur ham radio operator, is known as the first man in space to communicate via ham radio with people across the globe while aboard the Columbia STS-9.

The students plan to offer the suits at a special auction conducted by the American Space Museum.

TheA tentative date for the auction has been set for November 4.

Some of the proceeds will be donated to the museum, while the other funds will be used for the Rappa and Ashworth's college tuition.

For more information about the museum and the auction, go to:

About the Author:

News 6’s Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter Mike Holfeld has made Central Florida history with major investigations that have led to new policies, legislative proposals and even -- state and national laws. If you have an issue or story idea, call Mike's office at 407-521-1322.