Clinton e-mails an astronaut from a friend's house in 1998. Photo AFP

Laptop used by Bill Clinton to send first US presidential e-mail is for sale

Laptop used by Clinton to send the first ever US presidential e-mail - to an astronaut - is for sale


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

The still-functioning computer - with Clinton's cheerful exchange with space shuttle astronaut John Glenn in November 1998 on the hard drive - is the featured item in an online sale by RR Auction.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it goes for US$100,000 or more. Just the content of it is awesome," said Bobby Livingston, a spokesman for the auction house, based in the US state of Massachusetts, 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.

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 lift-off 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," Livingston said.

The laptop should appeal to avid collectors of presidential, space and computer memorabilia, he said.

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.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: It was one giant leap for the White House