You've got mail: Clinton-to-space laptop up for auction

Then US President Bill Clinton preparing an e-mail on Nov 6, 1998 from the home of a friend in Arkansas. Mr Clinton sent the first email ever sent by a US president -- to senator and astronaut John Glenn aboard the space shuttle Discovery . The lapto
Then US President Bill Clinton preparing an e-mail on Nov 6, 1998 from the home of a friend in Arkansas. Mr Clinton sent the first email ever sent by a US president -- to senator and astronaut John Glenn aboard the space shuttle Discovery . The laptop he used, which belonged to White House physician Robert Darling, has come up for auction and could fetch US$100,000. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A more than 15-year old laptop does not go for much on eBay - unless it is the one former US president Bill Clinton used to send the first ever US presidential e-mail.

The still-functional laptop - with Mr 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 US$100,000 (S$127,000) or more. Just the content of it is awesome," Mr Bobby Livingston, a spokesman for the auction house that specialises in rare and unusual collectables, told AFP on Monday.

Mr 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 Mr Glenn, then 77.

Mr 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 Mr 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, Mr Clinton said he never used e-mail due to security concerns, but acknowledged e-mailing Mr Glenn in space as well as some US marines and sailors at sea at Christmas.

Prior to selling the laptop in 2000, Dr 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 Dr Darling to Nasa explaining the back story - plus instructions on calling up the e-mails.

Mr 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 Mr 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 16 megabytes of non-removable system memory and a hard drive ranging in capacity from 2.1 to 10 gigabytes.

By comparison, a low-end iPhone 5C today has a 16 gigabyte flash drive.

Other space-related items in the auction, which runs until April 16 at www.rrauction.com, includes a Beaulieu 16mm movie camera that spent three years on a Soviet space station.