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High prices for history of space

WHEN Alexei Leonov - the world's first space walker - climbed out of his space capsule he was struck by an 'unusual silence', writes Esther Oxford. 'I heard my heart pumping. I heard myself breathing. When I looked down. It occurred to me, so, the earth is in fact round,' he said.

This weekend Mr Leonov's training suit (pictured left) for the first space walk on 18 March 1965 was sold at auction for dollars 255,500 ( pounds 171,000). It was one of 200 artefacts recording three decades of Soviet space travel to be sold at Sotheby's in New York. The collection fetched dollars 6.82m ( pounds 4.6m).

Included in the sale were journals and diaries chronicling the ups and downs of the Soviet space programme, and two space capsules - one of them reusable. Both capsules were bought by an anonymous American bidder for dollars 1.6m ( pounds 1.1m) and dollars 552,500 ( pounds 371,000).

Among the oddities was a guitar that has been circling the Earth since 1987 aboard the Russian space station Mir. It made dollars 13,000 ( pounds 8,700).

Emmet Stephenson, a self-described 'space nut', was among the happiest people at the auction. He paid between dollars 400,000 and dollars 500,000 ( pounds 268,000- pounds 336,000) for four spacesuits and 15 other artefacts, including the pressure suit that the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, used to train for his 1961 mission.

Photograph: Edward Webb

(Photograph omitted)