Once sold for scrap, Nasa's lunar rover prototype is up for six-figure auction

Three vehicles used in Apollo missions based on original model, which was recovered in an Alabama backyard and is expected to sell for at least $120,000

It cost $38m to develop and helped humans explore the moon – but ended up being sold for scrap in Alabama.

Now a prototype electric vehicle for Nasa’s lunar missions has resurfaced and is up for auction.

The lunar rover had no doors, windows or roof, and a top speed of around eight miles per hour when not stuck in a crater. And the last 50 years have not been kind to the prototype’s aluminum frame and electronics.

But auctioneers are confident that the rusting buggy, officially known as the Local Scientific Survey Module, will fetch a six-figure sum when bidding starts next week.

The finished versions of the vehicle accompanied three Nasa space missions, Apollo 15, 16 and 17, and were left on the lunar surface.

The prototype looked set for an even lonelier fate: although spotted by a historian in a backyard in Alabama, it was sold for scrap as the owner died before Nasa could reclaim it.

But the scrap metal dealer preserved this slice of history, which now could be yours for an anticipated $120,000-$150,000, plus shipping costs from the southern US.

While the vehicle never made it into space, photographs show it was driven by Nasa’s rocket scientist Wernher von Braun (who also invented the V2 rockets fired at London for the Nazis).

The Boston auctioneers describe it as a rare opportunity for the public to own a prototype space vehicle. Robert Livingston, executive vice-president at RR Auction, said: “This historic prototype represents the intense effort, study, and technical innovation that went into making the Apollo program a great success.”

Institutions and museums as well as collectors around the world have created a healthy market for space memorabilia, he said: “The demographic tends to be men in their 50s who grew up watching men walk on the moon and are inspired by the achievement of the Apollo space program – so much of our scientific and computer use today is because of that. It was incredible – there’s been nothing even close since. Now there’s such a re-interest in launching space vehicles with the likes of Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos – and they all grew up watching Apollo.”

Bidding starts in the online auction next week and ends on 21 April. Last year, the same auction house sold an astronaut’s watch for $1.6m. The prototype lunar buggy is priced at roughly double what American video games magnate Richard Garriott paid for a Soviet equivalent, Lunokhod 2, back in 1983 – although his vehicle actually made it to the moon, and remains there still.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Gwyn Topham, Transport correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 7th April 2016 18.58 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010