Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Apollo-Soyuz Test Project medallion from NASA MFA Office

The collecting of memorabilia of any kind—whether it be movie memorabilia, sporting memorabilia, or spaceflight memorabilia—is essentially an exercise in fetishism: the relics in our collections provide us with tangible links to intangible moments and events in space and time. It is therefore not surprising that in the hierarchy of desirability of space relics, items that have actually flown in space are more highly sought-after than those that have not.1 These “flown” items take us places where most of us can’t go and times when none of us can.

A few weeks ago, I blogged here about an example of a certificate that NASA’s Manned Flight Awareness Office (MFA—later renamed Spaceflight Awareness Office, SFA) awarded to employees and contractors. This week’s artifact is from the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project, a goodwill mission carried out jointly by the United States and Soviet Union in July 1975. It too is an award, but goes one better. As well as the certificate itself, the employee or contractor received a medallion made, in part, from metal that had flown on the mission:

The medallion is 38 mm (1½”) across and made of very light metal; mostly aluminium I think. According to the text on the reverse, it contains metal from both the American Apollo and the Soviet Soyuz spacecraft that participated in the mission. I find that idea quite appealing: some small part of these historic craft now forever intermingled and inseparable. In the photos, the roughness of its manufacture is obvious, and this is an example that was still in its original packaging when it came into my collection!

The practise of issuing such medallions began with Apollo 8 in 1969, to commemorate the first time human beings had flown to the moon and back. Many early examples (including this one) were manufactured for NASA by the now-defunct Barco Mint of New Orleans. Altogether, the MFA and SFA have issued 15 such medallions, the most recent being for Space Shuttle flight STS-114 in 2005, to commemorate the program’s safe return to operations after the Columbia accident.

Like many of the MFA medallions, this one was issued with a certificate that included a place where the medallion could be glued. My example was originally presented to an employee of the Rockwell International corporation (today part of Boeing)—Rockwell built the docking module that allowed the dissimilar spacecraft to link up. I’ve obscured the employee’s name here for their privacy.

The certificate includes text in both English and Russian, and bears facsimiles of the signatures of the three American astronauts and two Soviet cosmonauts who flew on the mission. It also bears the two different mission insignia developed for the mission (top and bottom right), and also an unofficial, cartoon insignia (lower left).

This emblem features caricatures of the two spacecraft docked, the Soyuz being ridden by a cartoon bear, the Apollo being ridden by Snoopy, of Peanuts fame. Snoopy says “Right on!” and the Russian bear says “Поехали!” (“Poyekhali” — “Let’s go!”)2 Snoopy became an official mascot of the US space program in 1968, specifically in connection with flight safety, and the bear has long been a symbol of Russia.

1Items that have flown to the moon are generally more highly prized than items that have only flown in Earth orbit; and items used on the surface of the moon are most highly prized of all.
 2Yuri Gagarin exclaimed “Поехали!” as he was launched on Vostok 1 on 12 April 1961 at the start of his flight to become the first person in space.

Copyright information: The medal, certificate design, and official emblems are all works by NASA, and as works of the US federal government are in the public domain. However, copyright to Snoopy’s likeness that appears on the cartoon emblem belonged originally to United Feature Syndicate and today to Peanuts Worldwide LLC. Reproduction here is for educational purposes only.

No comments:

Post a Comment