Cole Sommers is The Right Stuff-obsessed. He stars in “Space Dealers,” a series produced by WAG TV that’s had successful runs in Europe and Australia and is now available on Netflix. It’s a kind of “American Pickers” meets “Antiques Roadshow”—for space collectibles. The Katonah resident also runs Moon Space Suits, a company that sells high-end, made-in-the-U.S.A. space suit replicas that range in price from $1,799 to nearly $13,000. He’s particularly passionate about NASA, using his 1:48-exact-scale models to show “the incredible growth in size and sophistication from the Mercury Redstone to the Apollo Saturn V, in only a six-year period.” And he’s ebullient getting to show off his own prized finds, like the personal preference kit that Buzz Aldrin used to carry the items he needed to take Holy Communion upon landing on the Moon. Sommers gushes, “Can you believe it? It’s the holy grail! It’s been on the Moon! Anything from Apollo 11 is precious, but this...! Aldrin’s communion bag! I tremble every time I take it out, and I’m totally humbled to have this unique piece of history!”
Sommers is not one of those enthusiasts out in Area 51 looking for UFO parts left by aliens. In fact, he doesn’t even pay much attention to memorabilia from Russia or elsewhere, saying: “It’s not like in the U.S., where we have a law that grandfathers things Apollo and pre-Apollo astronauts were given, but strictly prohibits owning just about anything significant from the shuttle era. That’s why there’s a real market for any Mercury, Gemini, or Apollo tidbit with provenance. Even something as unusual as this uneaten food ration that Alan Bean took from Apollo 12 that I just picked up. It’s been to the Moon, and it’s fully authenticated. You can spend a lot of money on some Russian capsule or space suit and never really know what you have!”
But for Sommers, “the right stuff” is actually about something more important than his space “stuff” being “right.” Sommers is particularly impressed with what he calls the “can-do attitude, bravery, fortitude, ingenuity, glory, and honor” of the NASA astronauts. He can pinpoint when he first became fascinated with “the right stuff” to March 16, 1966, when he was just six and watched Commander Neil Armstrong and co-pilot Dave Scott launch Gemini 8 on the black-and-white TV at his kitchen table in Mahopac. Sommers breaks into a detailed history, recounting the 50-year-old mission as if it happened yesterday, and as if everyone had the same encyclopedic recall: “The mission nearly ended in disaster when a stuck maneuvering thruster sent the spacecraft into a faster and faster roll. The astronauts were blacking out when Armstrong used the re-entry thrusters to gain control of the vehicle.” Sommers has ever since been simply taken with the challenge and adventure of human space exploration!
Sommers can tell you everything about each of the astronauts, whom he refers to as “explorers,” and talks most proudly about being friends with a few. On request, he can give you a full Ken Burns on any NASA mission, with documentary detail about each astronaut’s life and exploits. When Sommers gets to the narrative about Apollo 11 landing on the Moon, and how “with warning alarms sounding and not far from the surface, and the computer targeting a landing zone that was filled with giant boulders, Armstrong took over manual control, firing full thrusters to pilot the lunar module Eagle to a perfect landing at ‘Tranquility Base’...with only 15 seconds of fuel remaining! Everything it took to get there! Their lives depending on the engine to ignite to get them off the surface and then back to rendezvous with the orbiting command module! Now that’s the right stuff!”
Sommers, a former dentist, is himself an aerobatic pilot and did apply to NASA to be an astronaut. He’s got the letter of reference that his friend, Apollo 14 astronaut Ed Mitchell, sent to NASA on his behalf to give provenance to even that space detail.
He’s yet to gain the kind of relationships and access at SpaceX that he’s enjoyed at NASA, but, even at 58, the father of two proclaims, “If Musk asks, I’m fit to fly, and I’m ready to go!” Sommers’s motto is “Your Deeds Are Your Monuments,” and he does define himself as a man of principle...so he might just have “the right stuff” to be chosen. To be sure, as his license plate reads, Sommers is the “ROCK8MAN!”