(David S. Ball)

In Their Prime - Prime Recovery Ships for US Manned Spaceflight: 1961-1975

Synopsis of Exhibit


Between 1961 and 1975, the United States launched 31 manned space missions starting with the Mercury program and ending with Apollo-Soyuz Each mission ended with the capsule, slowed by parachute, splashing down into the ocean. The US Navy designated a Prime Recovery Ship (PRS) which usually made the recovery.
Every crew and all but one spacecraft were successfully plucked from the sea.

In astrophilatelly, an event cover should be postmarked by the post office nearest the event. For spaceflight recovery this means the postal unit onboard the Prime Recovery Ship. Most of the time cancelling was done at sea, but beginning with Apollo 15, some cancels were done at a land-based post office designated by the Department of the Navy.

This exhibit shows hand cancels and machine cancels from every US manned space mission recovered by the US Navy. In most cases where both a machine and hand cancel were used both are shown. Variants of hand cancelled postmarks are also illustrated.

On Jan 7th 1963, first class postage rate for letters changed from 4 to 5 cents. Servicers could continue to apply 4 cent stamps as third class single piece rate as long as the envelope remained unsealed. On Jan 7th 1968 both the first and third class rates increased to six cents (1st ounce for first class and 2 ounces for third). May 16th 1971 saw an increase to 8 cents and by Mar 2nd 1974 first class cost 10 cents where it remained for the last ocean recovery of America's space program.

Air mail cost 7 cents when Commander Shepard rode the rocket. 8 cents was required in Dec 1962. The rate increased to 10 cents in Jan 1968 and became 11 cents in May 1971.

USS Lake Champlain was the first PRS in the US manned space program. It was previously reported by Cartier that the Type I hand cancel (periods between the USS) was first used in 1959. A June 1958 cancel is illustrated.

Why do hand cancels vary? Throughout the exhibit the author examines the idea of "postmark plating". Is it a result from repeated inner hub replacement of canceling devices over several days of use as asserted by Malz or evidence of multiple devices as suggested by Learn?

Variant cataloging could identify fakes, backdated, and perhaps shore posted material. While inconclusive, this author believes that variants clearly point to multiple devices and that an exhaustive study should be undertaken to classify all variants.

The author wishes to extend his profound appreciation to Bob Boyd and Ray Cartier for both material and scholarly contributions to this exhibit.

Bulver, Paul C., Ramkissoon, Reuben A. & Winick, Lester E. Study of Suspect Space Covers, 2001 (2nd ed) Space Topics Study Group

Cartier, Ray E. Primary Recovery Cover Handbook, 1993 The Space Study Unit

Cranford, Bruce Space Covers: Dictionary & Identifier, 2006 H. Bruce Cranford Jr., P.E.

McMahan, Jack W. McMahan's Philatelic History of the Conquest of Space, 1972 Jack W. McMahan

Schultz, Donald O. Project Mercury…one step into space, 1967 Badger Printing Corp.

Schultz, Donald O. Project Gemini…two steps into space, 1967 Badger Printing Corp.

Schultz, Donald O. Project Apollo…three steps & the moon, 1970 Badger Printing Corp.

Note: This was originally a Powerpoint presentation which has been converted to HTML and jpeg files to reduce it's size (from approximately 75MB to 4MB!)

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Last modified on 2006 October 22