US Stamps

Deciphering astronaut autographs

Jun 5, 2024, 11 AM

U.S. Stamp Notes by John M. Hotchner

Space cover collecting became increasingly popular as manned space flight was established. And, a big part of the collecting has been finding event and first-day covers autographed by people involved in the space program, especially astronauts.

My interest in this collecting realm is autographs of people connected to the first manned space program, Project Mercury. The autographed FDC of the 1962 4¢ Project Mercury stamp (Scott 1193) in Figure 1 bears the signature of Virgil “Gus” Grissom, one of the Mercury Seven, the original seven astronauts selected for the Mercury program in 1959.

He flew in the Mercury capsule Liberty Bell 7 on the second suborbital flight on July 21, 1961. Grissom later died in a fire aboard Apollo 1 during a ground test on the launch pad on Jan. 27, 1967.

Grissom’s signature is fairly easy to read. Contrast it with the signature on the FDC of the 1971 8¢ Earth, Sun, Landing Craft on Moon stamp (Scott 1434) in Figure 2.

I first thought the FDC was signed by Apollo astronaut Jack Swigert, but my friend Ray Cartier, the premier space collector in this country, identified the signature as that of Russell L. “Rusty” Schweickart, part of the third group of American astronauts. This group trained for the Apollo missions that followed Mercury and Gemini.

Schweickart flew in Apollo 9 for 10 days in Earth orbit in March 1969 as the lunar module pilot. He performed the first in-space test of the portable life support system used by the Apollo astronauts who walked on the moon later that year.

As backup commander of the first crewed Skylab mission in 1973, he was responsible for developing the hardware and procedures used by the first crew to perform in-flight repairs of the Skylab space station.

He did not fly again and left NASA in 1977 to serve two years as California Governor Jerry Brown’s assistant for science and technology.

Connect with Linn’s Stamp News: 

    Sign up for our newsletter
Like us on Facebook
    Follow us on Twitter