Richard Truly last saw it aboard the Challenger spacecraft 38 years ago.
A small envelope with a $ 9.35 express postage stamp and a special postmark dated August 14, 1983. identifying it as “Space Mail in Orbit via STS-8”, was then recently signed by Truly and his four STS-8 teammates. Although more than 260,000 of these envelopes were issued during the same mission, this one was special: it had the number “3” on the back, it was one of 10 signed by all five astronauts, and was meant for Truly.
But Truly never got it.
“To be honest, I have no proof of which serial number was intended for me. I never got everything I know, ”said Truly, who was the commander of the STS-8 mission and later served as an administrator for NASA. “The other four crew members got theirs, but I was the only stamp collector.”
Almost 40 years later, the envelope appeared again – on eBay.
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Listed on March 16 by a seller in Vancouver, Washington for just $ 3, the lot name in the envelope that flew into space only listed “1983 Eagle signed by the Challenger Launch crew for $ 9.35,” the latter referring to the stamp on which the American was depicted. Bald eagle and the moon. There were no other details in the lot description, but that was ok. Photos said everything.
Like thousands of other envelopes sent during the STS-8 mission, the one for sale had a crew patch on the front and two additional postmarks: one when the Challenger was launched on August 30, 1983, and the other when the orbiter landed in September. … 5, 1983. In the upper left corner were the signatures of Truly, pilot Dan Brandenstein, and mission specialists Dale Gardner, Guyon Bluford (the first African American astronaut to fly), and William Thornton.
The reverse bore the number “3” and another postmark denoting his return to Earth.
It took collectors only a day to notice this. Bidders steadily raised the price until it seemed to stabilize at $ 132 in the hours before the auction ended. Then, in the last seconds, the envelope skyrocketed to $ 1801.76.
David Ball won the STS-8 space mail signed by the crew.
Special offer for vacation
NASA’s press kit for STS-8 details how the United States Postal Service (USPS) collaborated to launch approximately 260,000 envelopes – or “philatelic covers,” as collectors call them, aboard the ship as part of its 25th anniversary celebration. … spaceship Challenger.
“Each cover will be placed in a specially designed folder and sold for $ 15.35 each by mail only from the USPS Philatelic Division,” NASA wrote. “The proceeds (excluding postage) from the sale of the Shuttle Flight folder will be split equally between NASA and the Postal Service.”
The bulk of the envelopes were stored in the Challenger payload bay, either in two large storage boxes that were attached to a pallet or in eight Getaway Special canisters, the latter more often used to accommodate students and small experiments.
A thousand covers were set aside and packed in the shuttle’s cockpit. Departed at the request of the Chief Postmaster, they were intended to be presented after the flight to museums and representatives of the postal service. Ten envelopes were left available for signature by the crew during the six-day flight.
Realizing that the public sale of covers could lead to astronauts inundated with requests for autographs, NASA instructed the STS-8 crew to sign only ten envelopes aboard the Challenger. (In the decades after the mission, four of the five crewmembers, including Truly, would autograph additional samples upon request, and only Thornton followed NASA’s rules until his death in January.)
Upon Challenger’s landing, the signed covers were presented to the Smithsonian Institution, then President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George W. Bush, NASA Administrator James Beggs, Postmaster General William Bolger and, now known, only four of the five STS-8 astronauts.
Signed, sold and delivered
Ball was already familiar with the history of the STS-8 covers when he saw it was not. Envelope 3 on eBay.
“There are several autographs to be found on these covers,” said Ball, a 40-year-old stamp collector and author of the book.American astrophilat: the first fifty years“(Joggling Board Press, 2010), but it’s rather unusual to see a crew-signed flight cover with one number in the six-digit row on the back.”
Given the rarity of the envelope, Ball discussed the auction with several other amateurs and became concerned that the envelope might be stolen. One of his friends mentioned that he had met Truly earlier and knew that the STS-8 commander was missing his signed cover. Ball decided to contact the astronaut to be sure.
“If it was yours and you want it back, I’m ready to help any way I can,” Ball tweeted Truly by email. “I wish it were, but this is not my story, and I definitely don’t want to be fooled about an important memento.”
“I would like to have one,” answered Truly. “The last time I saw a cover in orbit was when we signed 10 covers.”
It was agreed. Ball made a sizable bet to ensure he was the winner knowing he was buying it on Truly’s behalf.
It is unclear why Truly never got his cover, unlike the rest of the STS-8 crew, or how it ended up on eBay 38 years later (if really cover # 3 was meant for Truly). The annotations on the back of the cover suggest that the cover made it into a well-known reference collection at some point, Ball says, but otherwise it’s a mystery.
Truly happy to finally receive a cover for my stamp collection.
“I’m looking at the mail,” he said.
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