Recovery Ship Cover Varieties
(Revised 31 March 2008)
Gemini 6 was designed to be the first rendezvous mission. The plan was for Gemini 6 to rendezvous with an Gemini Agena Target Vehicle (GATV). Gemini 6 was the last of the program's battery-powered spacecraft, which limited the flight to two days at most. Thus, when the mission directive neared its final version by the end of September 1965, it provided that the "mission may be cut to one day if all objectives are completed." In other words, the crew (Wally Schirra & Tom Stafford) could come home as soon as they completed rendezvous and docking with the Agena; everything else was secondary, even experiments. All was ready on 25 October 1965 for the launch of both the Agena and Gemini 6. At 10 o'clock the Agena was launched. However, signs that something was wrong appeared minutes later when the target cut loose from the booster. Although a telemetry signal in the Mission Control Center showed that the big engine had started exactly on time, that was the last good news. Soon after the Agena was lost.
While the countdown for the Gemini 6 launch was still in progress, it was suggest that "we launch a Gemini as a target instead of an Agena". This suggestion was based an earlier proposal from the Martin Company for a rapid-fire launch demonstration. There was considerable opposition to this proposal and over coming days a number of other plans were investigated. While problems developed with alternative suggestions, the dual launch plan was slowly gaining support. So much so, that on Thursday, 28 October, a press conference was held at the Texas White House to announce the Gemini 7/6 rendezvous mission.
Gemini 7 was successfully launched on 4 December 1965 for a long duration mission of 14 days. Soon after launch the pad cleanup began to ready the pad for Gemini 6A. With one or two minor delays, all went well and so, after a trouble free countdown, precisely at 9:54 a.m. on 12 December the Gemini 6A launch vehicle's engine roared into action. However, a crisis immediately developed leading to the main engines shutting down and the potential destruction of the spacecraft. At the moment of crisis Schirra, the veteran test pilot, remained calm and, sensing that the rocket was still safely on the ground, didn't activated the ejection system. When the smoke had cleared the hatches were opened and the astronauts, their faces etched with disappointment, were helped out of the spacecraft. Luckily, the ejection system had not been activated and thus all was not lost, as Gemini 7 still had six days of its mission left. An examination of the spacecraft began immediately and eventually it was found that a dust cover had accidentally been left in the engine after a routine cleaning of the Gas Generator a fews months earlier. In a mighty effort Gemini 6 was made ready for launch in only three days. At 8:37 a.m. on 15 December Gemini 6A rose from its pad. After several anxious minutes, it became clear that the third attempt to launch Gemini 6A had been successful and the chase to catch Gemini 7 had began.
Gradual catchup of the target vehicle lasted until 5 hours 16 minutes when Schirra prepared to make the last rendezvous manoeuvres. The two ships were now close enough to allow Gemini 6A to thrust directly toward Gemini 7. He fired the thrusters and closed on Gemini 7 . Following a number of manoeuvres, 6A coasted until the two vehicles were 40 meters apart, with no relative motion between them. The world's first manned space rendezvous was now a fact. At 2:33 p.m., 15 December 1965, Gemini 6A had rendezvoused with Gemini 7, the first true rendezvous in space. After several orbits of close in manoeuvres, Schirra flipped the spacecraft blunt-end forward and fired his thrusters to impart a small separation speed. Eventually, the crews settled down 16 kilometers apart for their scheduled sleep period.
After their sleep period and one day in space, having achieved all their mission objectives including demonstrating rendezvous in space, it was decided that Gemini 6A was going home. Schirra flipped 6's blunt-end forward and jettisoned the equipment section with retrofire following automatically. The drogue parachute was deployed at 14,000 meters, and punched out the main parachute at 3,200 meters. Gemini 6A landed about 13 kilometers from its planned impact point, recording the first successfully controlled reentry. The crew remained aboard their spacecraft after splashdown while it was brought aboard the recovery ship, the USS Wasp, a first for the Gemini program.
The Atlantic Recovery Force was led by the carrier USS Wasp and included the USS Ability, USS Aucilla, USS Joseph P. Kennedy, USS Meredith, USS Paiute, USS Power, USS Waccamaw and the USS Waldron. The Pacific Recovery Force was made up of the USS Cochrane, USS George K. MacKenzie, USS Ponchatoula, USS Renshaw and the USS Rupertus. Covers are known for all these ships except the USS Ability and the USS Waccamaw.
As mentioned in my previous article, by the start of the Gemini program, Morris Beck's covers and the Navy rubber stamp cachets designed by Morris Beck had become so successful that they had displaced many other Recovery Ship cover producers. However, some cover designers sent general program covers to the various recovery ships for postmarking. One of the more interesting and varied set of covers was produced by Sokolsky. He produced a number of different cachets for Gemini 6A and used them for Recovery ship postmarks. The five cachets I've seen on Recovery ship covers are:
1) Rocket & Launch Pad - red
2) Rocket & Moon - green
3) Space Station - blue
4) The Earth & Rockets - red
5) The Earth and a Gemini capsule - dark brown
The combinations I'm aware of are:
Cachet 1 - USS Wasp (PRS) and USS Joseph P Kennedy
Cachet 2 - USS Rupertus and USS Joseph P Kennedy
Cachet 3 - USS Cochrane and USS George K MacKenzie
Cachet 4 - USS George K MacKenzie
Cachet 5 - USS Ponchatoula
One example is a PRS USS Wasp cover which has cachet 1. These covers usually have the normal Navy Recovery Force cachet on the back as show in the scan.
This leaves a number of questions. Were covers produced for the other recovery ships: the USS Aucilla, USS Power, USS Renshaw ane the USS Waldron? Were there any other cachet designs? Were all five designs used for all of the recovery ships? If they were, this means that there would be a potential of at least 30 and up to 50 different Sokolsky Recovery Ship covers available for this mission! Collecting all of these would be a great challenge.
1)On the Shoulders of Titans: A History of Project Gemini by Barton C. Hacker and James M. Grimwood,
NASA Special Publication, 1977.
2)Personal Collection of Dr Ross J Smith.
I would again like to acknowledge RJI, from whom I've obtained several of the above covers on eBay
If anyone has a different combination of colours or a completely different cachet please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This especially applies to anyone with knowledge of a cover with a gold postmark.