The Story of ASTP Primary Recovery Ship Covers
Revised with extra covers and revised 27 January 2017
(Dr Ross J Smith)

There is much confusion and misinformation about the various Primary Recovery Ship (PRS) covers issued during the ASTP mission. This article attempts to piece together the true story using information from the original participants.

Our story begins after Apollo 15 when the Post Office aboard the PRS for all future missions was closed to the public on the day of recovery and opened the day after. The Post Office was, however, still opened to the crew. All philatelic mail was postmarked on shore using the PRS postmark. This was further modified for the ASTP mission, where the Post Office aboard the PRS, USS New Orleans, was closed on the 24th, the recovery date, for the crew as well as the public. All mail was postmarked on shore with a San Francisco postmark. The two most common cachets are the Beck B998 and the Beck designed Navy cachet (Figures 1 & 2).

The story would have ended there except for several enterprising dealers and the Postal Clerk aboard the USS New Orleans who were determined to produce a more appropriate souvenir of the final manned mission before the change to a reusable spacecraft and a touchdown on land instead of water. The most ambitious of these schemes was devised by Sean Masar. He decided to obtain covers postmarked onboard the USS New Orleans on each day of the mission. He contacted the ship's Post Office in April or May of 75 and asked if he could get envelopes postmarked during the mission. He had over 100 covers delivered to the Postal Clerk before the ship sailed. He arranged with the Postal Clerk to, when he reported for duty each morning, drop Sean's covers in the mail slot so they would be postmarked for that day. He had 10 covers postmarked each day (starting with the 13th) with an extra 20 or so covers postmarked on the day of docking and possibly on the day of undocking. These covers were returned to Sean in two batches, one containing covers postmarked up to the 19th and one containing the covers postmarked after the 19th. This is important because it means that mail was offloaded from the USS New Orleans on the 19th. Thus the covers postmarked on or before the 19th were not aboard the ship on the recovery day. All covers postmarked on 20th-23rd and 25th (the Post Office was closed on the 24th) were actually aboard the ship during the recovery operation. Most of these covers were cacheted with the Beck designed Navy cachet as shown in Figure 3 which was postmarked on 21, the day the two spacecraft undocked. However, an unknown number received a different cachet as shown in Figure 4 (note Sean Masar's name on the back of the cover). Note that the 25th is important as it was the first day after the recovery that the ship's PO was opened.

The next player in our story is the USS New Orleans' Postal Officer. He arranged for a number of covers to be printed aboard the ship and postmarked on the 25th (Figure 5). Some of these were sent to Sean Masar, but most were sold to members of the crew. While described as Captain's covers in some sources, these covers are better described as Crew covers. While one source claimed these were backdated, there is no evidence to support this claim. The fact that these covers bear the ASTP stamps which were issued after the USS New Orleans sailed is not evidence for backdating. These stamps could have been brought aboard on the 19th when mail was offloaded or on the 25th with men returning from shore leave.

Another person who decided to produce covers postmarked aboard the USS New Orleans on the 25th was the Space Unit's Dr R. Ramkissoon. The ASTP Recovery Ship covers came about as an outgrowth of contacts he made during a 2-week September voyage aboard the USS New Orleans for the recovery of Skylab II. During that voyage he became acquainted with the ship's postal clerk. From prior contact with Morris Beck, he was able to obtain Beck's printed cacheted covers for the ASTP mission and arranged for a small number of these to be postmarked on the 25th. As few as six Beck (B998) cacheted covers (Figure 6) were thus postmarked. In addition a small number of Navy cachet covers and at least one USS New Orleans postcard with a Navy cachet were postmarked for Dr Ramkissoon. The Beck cacheted covers are particular desirable as they are collected by both Space Cover collectors and collectors of Beck Naval covers. Also, Dr Ramkissoon reported that a number of covers were carried aboard the USS New Orleans but received San Francisco postmarks. These covers were signed by various members of the crew and recovery teams and some were marked as having been carried aboard the USS New Orleans.

The final player in this story is Bob Boudwin who took a number of covers aboard the USS New Orleans and postmarked them on the 25th. He used at least two different cachets. The most common one seems to be the USS New Orleans insignia while a less common cachet is the TF 130 insignia (Figure 8). His covers can be identified by a printed text message indicating that the cover was carried aboard the USS New Orleans by B. Boudwin and signed by him. Unfortunately, this message is usually extremely light and doesn't show up well on scans or photocopies. It should also be noted that some of his covers only received the signed text cachet. Due to the small number available these are still extremely desireable. A different example can be seen in Figure 8a.

Thus, instead of being a fairly boring mission for PRS cover collectors with all covers postmarked in San Francisco, this mission produced a variety of interesting covers. These include covers postmarked on each day of the mission (except 24th) and covers with a variety of cachets postmarked on the 25th. In addition, a number of covers exist which were signed by various members of the crew and recovery teams. All in all, a challenge for PRS Recovery Ship cover collectors.

Update
As well as the previously mentioned cachets (blue Navy cachet & embossed mission emblem), Sean Masar used a number of other cachets including a Beck B998 printed cachet and a multicolour mission patch cachet. Extra cover 19, postmarked on 23 July shows a mission patch cachet while extra cover 20, postmarked on 15 July is a Beck B998 cover. Sean also produced at least one cover with no cachet, postmarked on 13th, which was sent to Robert Mcleod who subsequently sent it back to the USS New Orleans to have the ship's cachet applied.

It has now been comfirmed by Robert Mcleod that the cachet on extra covers 10 and 15 have genuine USS New Orleans ship's cachet. However, he also reported that it was possible to send covers that had already been postmarked to the PRS to have it's cachet applied. Therefore it appears that the two covers were not aboard the ship on the 24 July but were sent to the PRS at a later date.

References
- Correspondence with Sean Marsar
- Correspondence with Dr R. Ramkissoon
- Correspondence with Antoni Rigo
- 'Primary Recovery Ship Handbook', Ray E. Cartier (1993)
- Owen Murray's Beck Naval Covers Website (http://beck.ormurray.com/)
- Correspondence with Robert Mcleod

Notes:
1) Antoni Rigo's initial inquiry led to my research.
2) This article appeared in the issue of Astrophile.
3) Bob Boudwin covers are also known with no cachet except for the note that it was carried aboard the PRS

Extra Covers
1) A Bob Boudwin cover with his second cachet postmarked on board on 25th
2) A Dr R. Ramkissoon postcard postmarked on board on the 25th. See also the front of the postcard.
3) A Dr R. Ramkissoon cover signed by the CTF-130 Recovery Officer - This cover may have been on board the USS New Orleans on 24th and then taken ashore for postmarking
4) A Dr R. Ramkissoon cover that was aboard the USS New Orleans on 24th before being taken ashore for postmarking and signed by 5 members of the ASTP007 experiment team who were aboard the PRS
5) A Dr R. Ramkissoon cover that was aboard the USS New Orleans on 24th before being taken ashore for postmarking
6) A Recovery Helicopter cover which was aboard the USS New Orleans on 24th and signed by the crew of recovery helicopter Helantisubron Six
7) Another cover signed by the pilot of recovery helicopter Helantisubron Six
8) A cover that may have been marked by a member of the Swim I recovery team
9) A cover that may have been marked by a member of the Swim II recovery team
10) A cover with the USS New Orleans ship's cachet. However, it is likely that the cachet was not applied on recovery day but was applied sometime later.
11) A recovery cover with an unusual cachet
12) A cover with a Navy cachet and both machine and hand San Francisco cancels - very unusual
13) A cover with a photo of the USS New Orleans and both a Cape Canveral launch postmark and a Honolulu splashdown postmark
14) A cover with an unusual USS New Orleans emblem but a Norfolk postmark. The following is on the back ''Cachet Added By MhCachets USCS 7913'. The cachet was done by USCS member Michael Hebert.
15) A cover with the USS New Orleans ship's cachet but with a KSC postmark
16) A helicopter recovery cover flown aboard Swim 1
17) A helicopter recovery cover flown aboard ELS
25) A Sean Masar cover postmarked on 13 July. First day at sea. From the collection of Robert Mcleod.
20) A Sean Masar cover postmarked on 15 July (sold on eBay in late 2009)
18) A Sean Masar cover postmarked on 17 July, the linkup day
22) A Sean Masar cover postmarked on 17 July (sold on eBay in mid 2010)
19) A Sean Masar cover postmarked on 23 July
21) A Bob Boudwin cover with a handpainted cachet (sold on eBay in March 2010)
23) A helicopter recovery cover (sold on eBay during 2010)
24) Three different helicopter recovery covers
25) A USS New Orleans postcard identical to the Dr Ramkissoon postcard (see 2) but with the stamp and postmark on the picture side of the postcard. Thanks to Gerard Zonneveld.
26) A USS New Orleans cover with a multicolour mission emblem and printed crew signatures. Contains insert with mission information.
Request
If anyone has further information please contact the author at rossjsmith@optusnet.com.au.

 

 


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