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ASTP naval and Apollo splashdown covers

Robert (Bob) Boudwin is one of the most famous dealers in area of space cachets and serviced covers, sometimes Bob’s covers bear the labels with his address, in other cases - overprinting. Basically these are simple black and white cachets, published in large quantities and available for small money. In addition to the dedicated ASTP cachets, Bob Boudwin serviced covers at various facilities directly or indirectly involved in the project. This is his naval series. Cancellations: 15, 17 July - Cape Canaveral, July 24 - Kunia Honolulu.

Morris Beck began to create his own cachets and covers back in 1943, while studying at school. He is considered the most eminent creator of the naval covers, producing about 2000 various cachets during his career. His covers are in demand, and many are considered rarities. In our story, he delivered four variants of cachets. Two were printed on original Beck’s envelopes and the other two were used to be stamped anywhere. Most of the Beck’s ASTP covers have Skylab or Mariner stamp; you can find much less with the ASTP stamps, issued July 15, 1975.

USNS Vanguard. Unlike USSR, US had no pure "scientific" fleet of tracking ships and all vessels that supported space flights, were of so-called - "dual-use" and belonged to the Navy. USNS Vanguard - a former civilian tanker SS Mission San Ferdnando, launched in 1943, then served as military transport and after extensive modernization appeared in 1965 as tracking station for Apollo program, USNS Vanguard. It gained its fame and love during Skylab and ASTP programs, especially following a revolution in Madagascar in early 1975, which resulted in NASA loss of tracking station in Tananarive. Some of the functions were transferred to ATS-6, communication satellite, and some fell on USNS Vanguard and ARIA planes. For some reason, the ship has been marked by 5! own ASTP cachets.

USNS Redstone (T-AGM-20) like USNS Vanguard, was remade from the civil tanker SS Mission De Pala. After sailing in various seas and serving in a couple of wars, it was taken by the Navy for a reconversion program to fit US space needs and in 1965 formed as a tracking station. The main objective was to support Apollo flights to the Moon, and then everything else in its turn - Skylab, ASTP, Shuttles, until it was scrapped in1993. In ASTP philately area USNS Redstone holds a modest place with one type of cachet that comes in different colors.  

Art-piece by artist, collector and a friend - Alec Bartos. The handmade cachet of Apollo splashdown on the Bob Boudwin cover, postmarked on USS New Orleans. 

Alec is the author and creator of the most outstanding and unique cachets I've ever seen. His artworks can be checked at:

The most intriguing part of the naval covers story is of cause USS New Orleans cancellations and covers taken aboard while the ship performed Apollo recovery. Following the philatelic misfortune of Apollo 15, no ship-board post activities were allowed on the day of splashdown, thus most available covers were postmarked on July 25th. Though some covers exist for the earlier dates (but I don’t have them). These covers came from three respectable  dealers – Sean Masaar, Bob Boudwin and Reuben Ramkissoon. Also “crew” covers exist, some of them have ASTP stamps issued Jul 15th. Some of the covers carried aboard bear only relevant inscription and regular San Francisco cancellation.

more information on the ASTP PRS covers can be found on the Dr Ross Smith great website

A "perfect" Sean Masaar cover for Swim Helo, signed by HS-6 and Apollo crew. The cover bears HS-6 power seal and ASTP stamp.

Recovery was made by anti-submarine helicopter squadron HelAntiSubRon SIX (HS-6) crews. Various combinations of covers exist. Although very uncommon, some bear USS New Orleans postmarks others received late cancellations.

A group of recovery cachets.

The last two covers show parachuted ocean splash, christened “crazy cachet” for its non-realistic featuring:

  • A single parachute - instead of the actual three parachutes.

  • Parachutes attached to the Apollo service module – which was actually jettisoned prior to command module re-entry.

  • Landing in the ocean – check out the size of the "splash" into the ocean – as tall as the service module!

  • "USA" would be upside down when the command module was on the launch pad – never seen that in a launch pad photo!

  • Splashdown into the ocean is "capsule first" putting the astronauts under water – don't think it happened that way.

This cachet was probably produced by Stan Henderson (©

Nice naval covers with ASTP theme, though not related to recovery operations or ASTP in general.


Special notice re USNS Range Sentinel - though the covers with Jul 15, 1975 Cape Canaveral cancellation are not uncommon (like example with the red emblem), the ship did not participate in Apollo-Soyuz project or any other manned space flight project. USNS Range Sentinel was tasked with tracking and monitoring of the NAVY ballistic missiles launches - Poseidon, Polaris, Traident.

USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19) was a command and control ship of US 7th fleet capable of supporting space communications. In summer 1975 it was positioned in San Diego for post-deployment stand-down. Taking into account that USS New Orleans (LPH-11) was belonging to the 7th fleet and operating from the same San Diego just leased by NASA for Apollo recovery support, I can propose that it was reporting and maintaining communications with USS Blue Ridge. Though this fact cannot put the later into the collectable ASTP inventory but still there is a nice naval souvenir with USS Blue Ridge cachet and postmark on the docking date – Jul 17, 1975.

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