Clinton-to-space laptop up for auction

2014-03-25 14:21
The Acer Aspire S3 ultrabook performs at the top end of the laptop range. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

The Acer Aspire S3 ultrabook performs at the top end of the laptop range. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

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Washington - A more than 15-year old laptop doesn't go for much on eBay - unless it's the one Bill Clinton used to send the first ever US presidential e-mail.

The still-functional laptop - with Clinton's cheerful exchange with Space Shuttle astronaut John Glenn in November 1998 still on the hard drive - is the featured item in an online sale by Massachusetts-based RR Auction.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it goes for $100 000 or more. Just the content of it is awesome," said Bobby Livingston, a spokesperson for the auction house that specialises in rare and unusual collectibles.

Glenn, a US senator who in 1962 had been the first US astronaut to orbit Earth, was on a nine-day mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery when he told Nasa he wanted to e-mail Clinton, who was in Arkansas visiting friends.

"This is certainly a first for me, writing to a president from space, and it may be a first for you in receiving an e-mail direct from an orbiting spacecraft," wrote Glenn, then 77.

Historic e-mail

Clinton was keen to receive the message, but when his staff couldn't readily find him a computer to do so, White House physician Robert Darling stepped forward with his trusty Toshiba and his personal AOL e-mail address.

"Hillary and I had a great time at the launch," wrote Clinton, referring to Discovery's liftoff from the Kennedy Space Centre a few days earlier, in his reply. "We are very proud of you and the entire crew, and a little jealous."

In an interview with a US journalist in early 2000, Clinton said he never used e-mail due to security concerns, but acknowledged e-mailing Glenn in space as well as some US marines and sailors at sea at Christmas.

Prior to selling the laptop in 2000, Darling took care to keep the historic e-mail exchange on its hard drive, and made a copy on its internal floppy drive, while deleting all other data.

RR Auction is selling the laptop, consigned by a private collector, with a small trove of documentation that includes a typed memo from Darling to Nasa explaining the back story - plus instructions on calling up the e-mails.

Clinton, wrote the doctor, "seemed to really enjoy himself particularly when he pressed the 'send' key and realised that at that instant his message was travelling through cyberspace and into real space".

"It's a remarkably historic item," said Livingston in a telephone interview, adding that the laptop should appeal to avid collectors of presidential, space and computer memorabilia.

The Toshiba Satellite Pro 435CDS typically ran Windows 95, with up to 16MB of non-removable system memory and a hard drive ranging in capacity from 2.1GB to 10GB.

By comparison, a low-end Samsung Galaxy SIII today has a 16GB flash drive.

Other space-related items in the auction, which runs until 16 April 16 on the website, include a Beaulieu 16mm movie camera that spent three years on a Soviet space station.
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