William Henry - Monarch Fable

Their Own Space


By Pamela Y. Wiggins 

While many kids dream of being astronauts, 13-year-old Mike Puzio of North Carolina spends time rubbing elbows with them. Thanks to dad Larry, an interest in books about space exploration turned into a collecting pursuit for this father-and-son duo.


“Over the years, I have heard from and met quite a few parent-and-child collectors who both have a passion for space exploration and its history,” says Robert Pearlman, founder of the collectSPACE news site. “Sometimes, it is the parent’s interest that spurs their child to get involved, and sometimes it is the opposite – the child’s enthusiasm reignites the parent’s interest in space exploration from when they were young.”

This kindled passion extends to his friends Mike and Larry Puzio.


Father and Son
Mike and Larry Puzio’s recent focus includes mission-flown artifacts.

As a kid, Larry collected coins and comic books. He’s always amassed books on various topics, although none of those tomes really held a lot of value until the past four or five years, when he developed an interest in books about the Apollo missions. He decided to obtain as many of the astronaut’s signatures as he could to add value, both personally and monetarily, to the volumes he was collecting. “I figured these guys aren’t getting any younger,” Larry says.

Before long, Mike was joining him on his quests. With their books in tow, they started attending space-related events where astronauts would be present. Larry likens this kind of adventure to “heading out to a big-league ballpark with your glove in hand,” just in case.

Those autographs are some of the most affordable items in the Puzio collection because they purchased the books and then got them signed personally by the astronauts. That’s something any kid can do, Larry says. “Kids can start out collecting astronaut signatures at a low cost or for free. Some will even sign through the mail. Also look for signed books in used-book stores” for reasonable prices. You might get lucky on occasion.

Of the outings they’ve attended, their favorite was the 2017 Astronaut Scholarship Foundation’s Space Rendezvous at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Mike had an all-access pass thanks to a family friend, so he even enjoyed breakfast with a number of astronauts. The best part of the trip, however, was hitting it off with astronaut Rusty Schweickart. The two talked for hours.

“The most fun is seeing how excited the astronauts get when they’re interacting with young kids” who show an interest in space exploration, Larry says. But another awesome offshoot of that encounter was being able to purchase a mission-flown medallion for their collection directly from Schweickart. It’s now one of their prized possessions.


A “dream item” for Mike and Larry Puzio is a Neil Armstrong autograph. This Armstrong-signed photograph sold for $3,600 at a November 2017 auction.

Another one of Larry’s favorite items is an autograph from Dee O’Hara, the first nurse to NASA’s first astronauts. She wrote “Shots build character” along with her signature, echoing Larry’s motto as a pediatrician.

This goes along with Larry’s recent interest in looking for mission-flown artifacts, similar to items sold at Heritage Auctions. His bucket list includes obtaining a helmet or another recognizable part of a spacesuit worn on a mission to use as a teaching tool in his practice as a physician. He wants something durable that kids can touch and examine firsthand. This wish-list item is a bit beyond Puzio’s budget, but he remains hopeful that something cool will come his way.

Mike has a wish list of his own: obtaining all Apollo 11 crew signatures. This includes hunting down the late Neil Armstrong’s autograph, and he knows that won’t be easy on a teen’s budget. In the meantime, he has quite a few things he already values.

Collection favorites for Mike include two SpaceX hats he wears frequently that were gifted to him from folks who work at the private aerospace company. Another really cool item in his collection is a Lego Space Shuttle with the base signed by John Glenn. He also relishes owning several space shuttle books signed by many of the astronauts who flew on the missions.

Through his collecting pursuits, Mike has learned many lessons. One of the most important revolves around budgeting. He knows that if he wants to go to those super space-related events with his dad, he needs to watch his spending on collectibles. He’s also learned to focus on things he will enjoy owning even if they decrease in popularity or go down in value rather than looking at them as investments. As an avid Lego collector, Mike found out that this could happen when he purchased some sets at a high price and then saw them decrease in value.


His hobby means Mike Puzio gets to meet people like Tom Jones, who flew on four Space Shuttle missions for NASA.

Mike has also learned, Larry says, that flown or unique items should be considered something you’re curating rather than just owning, and never to be damaged or altered. “This is reinforced,” Larry says, “by his being aware that much of my collection will pass on to him someday.”

Thanks to his mom, Mike’s also quite a history buff. He’s learned so much about space exploration through his collecting pursuits, but he also made some history of his own in 2013. Mike’s clever entry, “Bennu,” won the Name That Asteroid! competition held by the Planetary Society. He made the suggestion after noticing a similarity between the shape of the bird-like arm and solar panels on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, and the Egyptian deity Bennu, often depicted as a gray heron.

OSIRIS-REx is the first United States mission to return samples from an asteroid to Earth, and Mike was one of the lucky guests of NASA who got to see the launch with his family. Larry says they’re already looking forward to 2023, when the mission returns, and they plan to be in Utah to partake in the excitement Bennu has created once again.

Reflecting on enthusiastic collecting duos like the Puzios, Pearlman expresses how the missions of the past, and their memorabilia, mesh with the future of space exploration. “Space memorabilia is also just as much about the past as it is the future,” he says. “Because it is an ongoing activity, it is natural that once you start learning about and collecting the missions of the past, you gain an interest in and understanding of the future of space exploration.”

One thing’s for certain: The Puzio’s future holds many great collecting adventures and learning opportunities as the two explore the final frontier together. 

Pamela WigginsPAMELA Y. WIGGINS is the author of Collecting with Kids: How to Inspire, Intrigue and Guide the Young Collector, a book based on her columns in The Intelligent Collector.

This story appears in the Spring/Summer 2018 edition of The Intelligent Collector magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition.