Demand for collectible space cards keeps going up like a rocket


COCOA, Fla. -- As trading cards go, SpaceShots cards are hotter than a solid-fuel rocket booster at liftoff.

Take, for example, the first set issued last December by Space Ventures Inc. of Houston, Texas. That collectors' edition, limited to 25,000 sets, sold out in 10 months.

The current issue of The Non-Sport Marketplace, a publication that provides up-to-date collectors' prices, lists the value of the first series at $25 dollars, making it one of the most appreciated non-sports card sets of 1990. The set originally was sold for $18.

Wendell Bell, owner of Bell's Sports Cards shops in the Dallas area, recognized the potential popularity of the sets and bought hundreds of them. He is one of few dealers in the country with sets still in stock. (Gift shops at U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and Kennedy Space Center Spaceport USA Visitors Center have sold out.)

"I do extremely well with them," Bell said. "I've handled them since day one and have sold hundreds of sets."

Space Ventures president Ed White III, son of deceased astronaut Edward H. White II, launched the space trading card operation last year after discovering the value of the baseball cards he had collected as a kid. The elder White, along with Virgil "Gus" Grissom and Roger Chaffee, died in a 1967 flash fire that consumed their Apollo capsule during a launch pad test.

The first series, which contains 110 cards, covers missions during the manned space program from Alan Shepard's historic flight in 1961 to photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The second series, called the Commemorative Edition, includes in its 110-card set several cards commemorating the fifth, 10th, 15th, 20th, 25th and 30th anniversaries of events in NASA history and artists' concepts of the redesigned Space Station Freedom and the Space Exploration Initiative manned mission to Mars. The set retails for $18.

A special edition set recently released called Moon/Mars features 36 double-thick, high gloss embossed three-dimensional cards with photos of astronauts who have been to the moon, their missions and artists' concepts of the Space Exploration Initiative manned Mars mission.

The 200,000-set first printing of those cards has sold out and plans for a second printing are under way. Retail price of the set is $30.

The backs of all SpaceShots cards bear explanatory paragraphs about the photo and additional mission or personal facts.

"It's a great promotional thing for the space program," said Mercury 7 astronaut Donald K. "Deke" Slayton during a recent visit to Cocoa Beach. "He's got about 200 words on each of those cards and that's a pretty darn good educational tool. A lot of people are getting the opportunity to learn things they might not ordinarily know about."

White said the cards were designed to be used in classrooms and are written simply enough for sixth-graders to understand. He said his company has received many letters from teachers and school districts praising their efforts.

The cards in the first two series also carry the mission insignia or medallion, an American flag or a Space Trivia Challenge question on the backs. Another educational facet is that the trivia challenge answers are not on the cards or included in the sets.

"Education is the mission behind the entire company, using space as the vehicle," White said. "More and more we will emphasize education. The trivia challenge is meant to promote research and we've got $150,000 that we will be awarding in scholarships next year to the winners."

The winners White talked about will be the first 100 people to respond with correct answers to 100 trivia challenge questions.

These questions vary in degrees of difficulty and some require more research than others. Here is a sampling of trivia challenge questions:

* Which astronaut said, "I feel red, white and blue all over"?

* Who coined the phrase "A OK"?

* By chance, what event took place 20 years to the day of Yuri Gargarin's loft into space?

(Answers: Edward H. White II said, "I feel red, white and blue all over." Space commentator Shorty Powers coined the phrase "A OK." Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin became the first man in space on April 12, 1961. On April 12, 1981, the first space shuttle was launched.)

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