"Random Guy Allegedly Steals Astronaut Sally Ride’s Flight Suit"
June 10th, 2010
June 10th, 2010
A Texas man was indicted for stealing one of famed astronaut Sally Ride’s flight suits.
Calvin Dale Smith kept the one-piece garment in a suitcase for an unknown number of years, federal investigators allege. He is believed to have obtained the suit during a stint working for the Boeing division that was tasked with caring for the NASA flight suits. Smith pleaded not guilty on May 27, and the case has a July 12 court date. He faces up to 10 years in prison.
Smith’s estranged wife turned him in to the police after discovering the suitcase. Smith was in prison following an incident of domestic violence with a firearm. The suit could be worth more than $2,500, according to Robert Pearlman, a space collectible expert who authenticated the flight suit for the FBI NASA Office of the Inspector General. There is a substantial market for space program objects, but no serious collector would have touched a suit without proper documentation of its provenance.
“When collectors purchase valid items, they learn the chain of ownership, so they can show it off and not have questions asked about it,” Pearlman said.
But Smith’s motives may not have been financial. According to KHOU TV, the CBS affiliate in Houston, Smith’s daughter said he had “a crush” on Ride.
As the first American woman in space, Ride became a 1980s icon. She entered near-earth orbit on June 18, 1983, 20 years after the first woman in space, cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova.
The U.S. actually had female astronauts way back in the late 1950s, but the Woman in Space Program was canceled in 1961, despite the excellent, and in some cases, superior performance of the women on NASA’s grueling physical tests.
While Smith awaits trial, media outlets and collectors alike are wondering how a random Boeing employee walked out with not just the space suit but a host of valuable space program items without being detected. According to court documents, “Among the assorted items [Smith's wife] had gathered was an Omega watch, various specialized machined parts used in the NASA space program, to include an ‘ERCM Safety Tether Assembly’ and three ‘airlock parts’ (similar to couplers), as well as other items of NASA property.”
Pearlman offered one suggestion: Given the number of shuttle missions, there were simply a lot of things to keep track of.
“At one point, it was probably one suit of hundreds. If you were maintaining back-up and flown suits and educational and display suits, you would have a very large closet of light blue flight suits hanging around,” Pearlman said. “In that regard, if one suit were to go missing, and you had no reason to access that area, I would suspect that it wouldn’t be the first thing to pop up on the radar.”
Even Ride undoubtedly owned at least a handful of suits, although the exact number is unknown. What we do know, Pearlman said, was that the allegedly pilfered light-blue get-up never flew in space.