Space Cover #41, Tracking or Recovery?
This week's Space Cover of the Week is actually three covers. Starting with the Project Mercury flights and on into the shuttle flights tracking ships have played a key role in communicating with manned spacecraft. Designated USNS, United States Naval Ship, these are non-commissioned ships of the United States Navy. These are auxiliary support vessels owned by the US Navy and operated by Military Sealift Command that are in service and crewed by civilians rather than Navy personnel. In addition to manned space missions these ships track a number of other types of rocket and missile launches.
For the Apollo missions there were US Navy ships assigned as the prime and secondary recovery ships and USNS ships for tracking and communication roles. One exception to this is the USNS Vanguard's role in the Apollo 8 mission. The USNS Vanguard's first role in the mission was a tracking role - thus a cover for it should have an appropriate tracking cachet applied by the ship's master. Upon completion of that role the USNS Vanguard was moved to another location and acted as a secondary recovery ship - thus another appropriate cachet would be a recovery ship cachet such as the Beck RSC used by the US Navy ships.
As depicted in the image the USNS Vanguard supplied actually three different cachets for the mission - the middle cover represents the "regular" USNS Vanguard ship cachet as a tracking vessel. The top and bottom covers display two different versions of the Beck RSC for the Apollo 8 recovery - the difference is the additional wording "MOON ORBITAL FLIGHT" in the top cover.
Do you have both types in your Apollo 8 ship collection?