Sunday, 28 December 2008

Flown Apollo artifacts.

Regarded by many as the ultimate spaceflight collectible, flown artifacts from the golden age of manned spaceflight can be considered pieces of history.

It is evident that Lunar Module Pilots shared a bond as illustrated by these two items. This US flag, flown originally by Walt Cunningham on his own Apollo 7 mission was subsequently flown to lunar orbit by his Apollo 15 counterpart James Irwin.

In December 1968 this Apollo 8 embroidered patch was flown to the moon on man's first journey to another celestial body. Carried by Lunar Module Pilot William Anders and subsequently gifted to Walt Cunningham I recently had the opportunity to reacquaint Apollo 8 Command Module Pilot and all round legend Jim Lovell with a patch that had accompanied him to the moon and back.

It proved ironic, that having raced the Soviets the moon, mankind discovered the Earth with arguably the most famous photograph of all time.

I have been fortunate to meet eight of the men to have walked on the moon. Jim Lovell sadly did not get the chance following his aborted Apollo 13 mission but meeting him in October 2015 was a privilege.   

Jim McDivitt is a particularly likeable chap and the Apollo 9 flown tie clip I thought a neat artifact from the first manned flight of the Apollo Command, Service and Lunar Modules. An essential step that ultimately led to the first lunar landing.

Of all the Robbins medallion designs Apollo X I think is the most striking and my favourite. It captures particularly well the objectives of the mission. This example was obtained directly from Skylab astronaut Ed Gibson.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

And then men landed on the moon.

That's one small step for man... one giant leap for mankind." July 20th, 1969. Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot upon the moon reflected in the visor Buzz Aldrin, the second.

A single page from Buzz's flown Apollo 11 Flight Plan. The Flight Plan provided each of the crewmen with a detailed list of activities and a corresponding time frame for every event from launch to splashdown. From eating to sleeping, trans lunar burns or docking manoeuvres: actions both mundane and mission critical were covered and the crew would often add notations, updates or calculations to the Flight Plan as the mission unfolded.

Historically one of the most significant documents ever published even un-flown complete Apollo 11 Flight Plans can command thousands of dollars at auction.

I was fortunate to spend a couple of days in the comapny of Apollo 12 Command Module Pilot Dick Gordon when he visited Pontefract, West Yorkshire in 2011. There could not have been a nicer, more affable man in the astronaut corp. While this flag accompanied his crewmates and best friends to the lunar surface Dick missed his opportunity to match the feat when, as Commander of Apollo 18 his flight was cancelled by the Nixon administration.

As Apollo 12 Lunar Module Pilot Alan Bean travelled with this flag to the lunar surface. While attending an Autographica show he was kind and gracious enough to attest to that fact on the flag itself.

The flag was stored aboard the Apollo 12 Lunar Module "Intrepid"... nestled peacefully on the lunar horizon.

I had the pleasure of meeting Fred Haise in October 2008, whilst he was on a school speaking trip to Pontefract, West Yorkshire. A finer...more modest gentleman you could not hope to meet!

Recent research would suggest, that contrary to popular belief very few "Snoopy pins" were actually flown during the Apollo program: perhaps fewer than 100. Of those, Fred Haise flew 30 according to his Personal Preference Kit (PPK) records: more than any other Apollo mission. The infamous Apollo 13 explosion that almost cost Fred his life makes this flown pin especially significant.

Betacloth mission patches stored aboard Apollo 14 Command Module "Kitty Hawk"were flown in sealed packs numbering 25 per pack: 20 packs in total. When the time came to share the flown mission emblems amongst the crew Dr Mitchell explained that his crew mates took just 5 packs each leaving him with 10 packs or 250 individual betacloths. This is one of them.

Apollo 14 Command Module "Kitty Hawk" currently on display at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

A number of the astronaut corp were famed for their practical jokes or "Gotchas". The "Beep Beep" Apollo 14 back-up crew patch being arguably the most famous. Secreted throughout both spacecraft by the score, even making it onto the modularized cart used to traverse the lunar surface, the patches would float out of every compartment, locker or check-list. 

The crew of Apollo 14 took the prank in good spirits.....initially. The joke eventually wore thin but then the best "Gotchas" often do. The look on Gene Cernan's face, taken with Apollo 14 Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell and another of the flown "Beep Beep" patches speaks volumes! This photo, taken at an astronaut event in San Antonio Texas in 2006 is used with the kind permission of  the photographer.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

The final 3 missions.

This UK flag was flown to lunar orbit aboard Apollo 15 Command and Service Module "Endeavour" in July/August 1971. I recall as a spotty youth recording the 3 surface EVAs to a large reel to reel tape machine all the while imploring my parents to "shush". To this day the talking..... and the "shushing" can clearly be heard.

In 1974, on a private visit to the UK fellow Apollo 15 astronaut James B. Irwin presented Prime Minister Harold Wilson and "the people of the United Kingdom" with an identical flag. Jim had carried the flag to the moon in his own Personal Preference Kit.

This Apollo 16 betacloth was the first surface flown artifact I acquired more than 10 years ago. In October 2012 I was afforded an opportunity to reacquaint Charlie with the mission emblem that meant so much to him.

Charlie was kind enough to illustrate the location of the beta cloth patch for the duration of his stay on the moon.

Autographica 2007 was I believe the first time Gene Cernan had seen one of his Challenger flown navigational charts framed and beautifully presented courtesy of Novaspace Galleries. He was so impressed he spent the next 10 minutes showing it to his assistant and explaining the various features, numbers and notations.

Gene Cernan. The last man to walk on the moon, in a classic image from Apollo 17, December 1972.

Fallen Astronaut.

In April 1972, during CBS Apollo 16 launch coverage, sculptor Paul van Hoeydonck confirmed to Walter Cronkite that he was the artist responsible for the memorial sculpture known as the ”Fallen Astronaut”.  Placed on the lunar surface nine months previous, the crew of Apollo 15 had insisted that the name of the artist remain a secret for a year at least.

Following the revelation and in an attempt to boost the fortunes of the struggling Waddell Gallery in New York, owner Dick Waddell… in conjunction with van Hoeydonck, decided to offer a signed limited edition series of 950 “Fallen Astronaut” replicas to collectors at $750 each… with the intention of creating a second, cheaper series.

This was contrary to Apollo 15 Commander Dave Scott’s understanding of his “gentleman’s agreement” with the artist  - that there was to be no commercialisation of the piece. That however was not Paul van Hoeydonck’s recollection and production of the signed and numbered pieces continued… until that is NASA officials intervened.

Pressure on van Hoeydonck, Dick Waddell and Bruce Gitlin at Milgo/Bufkin (the manufacturer of the original piece and the limited edition) brought a premature end to the project.  Allegedly only 50 of the 950 replicas were made.

Paul van Hoeydonck retained all 50, gifting the majority to museums. One replica was given to the National Air and Space Museum and another to the King of Belgium. None were ever sold….or so we have been led to believe.

In April 2015, evidence to the contrary emerged when a replica purporting to be one of the limited edition was offered for sale on ebay. Numbered 200/950 the figure was offered for sale by the grandson of the late James T.Phillips Jr – an investment banker for J.P. Morgan based in New York and a collector of space artefacts and works of art. Mr Phillips had the means, the motive and the opportunity to make such a purchase.

Compelling evidence supporting its authenticity included a receipt of purchase from the Waddell Gallery and an accompanying certificate of authenticity signed by the artist Paul van Hoeydonck.

This find poses many questions not least how many were actually made and of those, how many were sold? Paul van Hoeydonck insists only 50 of the 950 replicas were completed and he can account for them all… suggesting perhaps that others were sold without his knowledge.

Sadly, gallery owner Dick Waddell passed away in 1974 aged just 50. Depression, divorce and financial worries had taken their toll.

Perhaps Dick Waddell had sold some privately in an attempt to alleviate his personal demons? Correspondence with the manufacturer has drawn a blank. Neither Bruce Gitlin nor Milgo/Bufkin is willing or able to confirm the numbers actually produced.

But when questioned about the replica figure exhibited by the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C,  the museum confirmed … “Stamped into the back of the head are the marks "c 1971." Marks that match all known authorised replicas… and this ebay find.

The artist himself is unwilling at this time to comment on the replica in question… pending the outcome of his own investigations. But it is evident that the controversy surrounding the work remains an irritation to this day.I doubt we will ever know for sure how many of the planned replicas were completed and subsequently sold but indications are that there may be more out there than we have been lead to believe.

Skylab and beyond.

Alan Bean proudly displays the US flag that traveled with all three crews for the duration of the manned Skylab program.

A piece of Skylab debris recovered from Esperance Shire, Western Australia. With help from NASA, Australian authorities were able to eastablish that this piece was cut from a lightweight structural beam the rest of which....

... was gifted to the National Geographic Society in Washington D.C.

This flown embroidered patch was carried on the historic joint US-Soviet ASTP mission in 1975 by Commander Tom Stafford.

Tom then gifted the patch to his close friend and Apollo 10 crew mate Gene Cernan and it remained in his possession until I purchased the piece at a Novaspace Gene Cernan "Garage Sale".

This US flag was flown aboard the test shuttle orbiter "Enterprise" on one of her many drop tests in the late 1970s. Fred was the commander on one such flight and he was happy to pose with this "Approach and Landing Special Award" typically given to NASA employees in recognition of their contribution to the flight test program.

The launch of STS-1. The first space bound shuttle flown by Commander John Young and pilot Robert Crippen. The beginning of a new chapter in maned space exploration.  


Commemorative US flag, flown aboard the first space shuttle mission - STS-1

On the face of it two shuttle thermal protection tiles. The tile with the "VT" number is I believe a test or engineering tile. The other, with the "VO" number, was likely attached and possibly flown on an orbiter. Remnants of the red silicone caulk adhesive used to attach the tile to the orbiter are still evident.

These silica tiles are used extensively on each orbiter providing effective yet light weight protection for the delicate aluminium skin of the vehicle.

Advanced Flexible Reusable Surface Insulation (AFRSI) blankets were developed after the orbiter Columbia was built. AFRSI blankets consist of sewn composite quilted fabric insulation that is sandwiched between two layers of white fabric that are sewn together to essentially form a quilted blanket. This piece was a sample provided to media in the Cape Canaveral area.

AFRSI blankets were used extensively on the orbiter upper surfaces.

This display is a commercially produced piece using Thermal Protection material, flown in shuttle Columbia's payload bay on one or more ocassions between 1981 and 1986.

NASA, in support of bringing the Olympics to Houston — home of Mission Control and the U.S. astronaut corps — launched aboard Atlantis 1,000 lapel pins for the Houston 2012 Foundation.  The eventual winner of the Olympic bid for 2012 was London.

Thursday, 28 August 2008


I guess it was inevitable, discovering an interest in spaceflight as a boy would lead me to collect spacecraft models. Here are a few of my favourites.

The Mercury and Gemini models were manufactured by the Precise Model Company of Elyria, Ohio. Formed in 1960, Precise went on to make many classic aerospace models which found their way on the desks of executives, pilots and astronauts alike.

Arguably the most recognizable and popular proved to be the Apollo Lunar Module. Manufacture is believed to have begun in 1967 and over time the model evolved. Earlier models had simpler base detail, a more defined ladder and a top coat lacquer that was prone to yellowing. The first obvious change being the addition of Neil Armstrong's first words on the moon in July 1969.

VIPs were treated to a more impressive "American Black Walnut" base complimented by a distinctive brass plaque.

Manufactured under contract to the Grumman Corporation (prime contractor for the Apollo Lunar Module) these models were gifted to astronauts, dignitaries and VIPs alike. I understand they were available to employees from the company gift store. It is not known how many were made in total but it is believed production stopped circa 1972 and best guesstimates suggest 5000 were manufactured.

An order dated 1972 from the Grumman Corporation for 500 Lunar Module models.... at $21.44 at piece.
Whatever the number, these models remain popular among collectors and crop up regularly at estate sales, popular on-line auction sites and regular specialist auction houses.

I am certain the Grumman contractors model was the inspiration for the gold model made by renowned jewelers Cartier, and gifted to the Apollo 11 crew during the post mission world tour. Sadly, I don't own the Cartier version.

Walter J.Hyatt Company was the company chosen by North American Rockwell to make this classic "in-house" desktop Apollo spacecraft model: Rockwell was the prime contractor for the Apollo Command and Service modules.

Made from injected moulded plastic and white painted metal I acquired this model from Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Paul Weitz.

A commemorative tableau made by the Danbury Mint circa 1999.

I am very much a fan of the early Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, but I am slowly beginning to appreciate the accomplishments of the space shuttle era: helped in no small measure by this desk top model.

It has the distinction of having been signed by the first female shuttle pilot and shuttle commander, Eileen Collins. Photo credit Annie Leibovitz.