The final time that Richard Really noticed it, it was on board the space shuttle Challenger 38 years in the past.
The small envelope, bearing a $9.35 Specific Mail stamp and a particular Aug. 14, 1983 postmark identifying it as “Space Mail Orbited Via STS-8,” was then newly-autographed by Really and his 4 STS-Eight crewmates. Though there have been greater than 260,000 comparable envelopes flying on that very same mission, this one was particular: serialized on its again as quantity “three,” it was one among solely 10 to be signed by all 5 astronauts and it was earmarked for Really.
However Really by no means acquired it.
“To be sincere, I haven’t got any proof which serial quantity was meant for me. All I do know is I by no means bought it,” stated Really, who was commander of the STS-Eight mission and later served as NASA administrator. “The opposite 4 crew members bought theirs, however I used to be the one stamp collector.”
Flash ahead nearly 40 years and the envelope reappeared — on eBay.
Listed on March 16 for simply $three by a vendor in Vancouver, Washington, the lot title recognized the flown-in-space envelope solely as a “1983 Crew Signed Challenger Launch $9.35 Eagle,” the latter referring to the stamp, which depicted an American Bald Eagle and the moon. The lot description supplied no different particulars, however that was okay. The photographs stated all of it.
Just like the 1000’s of different envelopes flown on the STS-Eight mission, the instance on the market featured the crew’s patch on its entrance and two further postmarks: one for when Challenger launched on Aug. 30, 1983 and one for when the orbiter landed on Sept. 5, 1983. Within the higher left nook had been the signatures of Really, pilot Dan Brandenstein and mission specialists Dale Gardner, Guion Bluford (the primary African American astronaut to fly) and William Thornton.
On the reverse, was the quantity “three” and one other postmark for its return to Earth.
It took solely a day for collectors to start to take discover. Bidders steadily drove up on the worth till it appeared to stabilize at $132 a number of hours earlier than the public sale was set to finish. Then, within the last seconds, the envelope skyrocketed to $1,801.76.
David Ball had gained the crew-signed STS-Eight house mail.
NASA’s press equipment for the STS-Eight mission particulars how, in celebration of the company’s 25th anniversary, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) collaborated on the launch of the roughly 260,000 envelopes — or “philatelic covers” as collectors confer with them — aboard the house shuttle Challenger.
“Every of the covers shall be positioned in a specifically designed folder and bought for $15.35 every, by mail order solely, from the USPS Philatelic Division,” NASA wrote. “Proceeds (unique of the postage affixed) from the sale of the Shuttle Flight Folder shall be divided equally between NASA and the Postal Service.”
The majority of the envelopes had been stowed in Challenger’s payload bay, both in two massive storage containers that had been connected to a pallet or in eight “Getaway Particular” canisters, the latter extra generally used to host pupil and small experiments.
One thousand of the covers had been put aside and packed within the shuttle’s crew cabin. Flown on the request of the Postmaster Normal, they had been meant for post-flight presentation to museums and to postal service officers. Ten of the envelopes had been left accessible to the crew for them to signal throughout the six-day flight.
Recognizing that the general public sale of the covers might consequence within the astronauts being overwhelmed by autograph requests, NASA directed the STS-Eight crew to solely signal the ten envelopes on board Challenger. (Within the a long time that adopted the mission, 4 of the 5 crew members, together with Really, would go on to autograph further examples on request, with solely Thornton abiding by NASA’s rule up till his death in January.)
After Challenger landed, the signed covers had been introduced to the Smithsonian, then-President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush, NASA Administrator James Beggs, Postmaster Normal William Bolger and, as now’s identified, solely 4 of the 5 STS-Eight astronauts.
Signed, bought and delivered
Ball was already acquainted with the historical past of the STS-Eight covers when he noticed the no. three envelope on eBay.
“One would possibly discover a number of autographs on these flown covers,” stated Ball, a 40-year stamp collector and the writer of “American Astrophilately: The First Fifty Years” (Joggling Board Press, 2010), “however seeing a crew-signed flight cowl with a single digit in a six-figure collection on the reverse is slightly extraordinary.”
Given the envelope’s rarity, Ball mentioned the public sale with a number of fellow hobbyists and have become involved that it may be stolen. One his mates talked about having beforehand met Really and was conscious that the STS-Eight commander was lacking his signed cowl. Ball determined to achieve out to the astronaut to make certain.
“If this was yours and also you need it again, I am ready to help in no matter means I can,” Ball wrote to Really in an e mail. “I’d like to have it, nevertheless it is not my historical past and I definitely would not need you cheated out of an necessary memento.”
“I might like to have one,” Really responded. “The final time I noticed the quilt was on orbit once we signed the 10 covers.”
It was settled. Ball positioned a large bid to make sure he could be the winner, with the information that he was shopping for it on Really’s behalf.
It isn’t clear why Really by no means acquired his cowl when the others on the STS-Eight crew did, or the way it ended up on eBay 38 years later (if certainly the no. three cowl was the one meant for Really). Annotations on the quilt’s reverse recommend that sooner or later the quilt made it right into a identified reference assortment, says Ball, however in any other case it is a thriller.
Really is simply blissful to lastly be receiving a canopy for his stamp assortment.
“I am watching the mail,” he stated.