The case of the unflown flown Robbins
by Howard C. Weinberger
What is harder to find than a flown Apollo 11 Robbins Medallion?|
An unflown one.
To date, all information published about the 450 silver Apollo 11 Robbins Medallions referred to all being flown.
That was, until six medallions were discovered without the typical date engravings: no launch, landing, or return dates on their reverse. Adding to the enigma, the six were engraved with serial numbers and appeared to be finished (as opposed to rough) medallions.
Were these flown medallions with missing dates or unflown, serialized medallions previously undocumented?
The medallions surfaced from the estate of a woman who had been a janitor at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. With her passing, went any chance to learn how she came into possession of the atypical Robbins. Were they given to her? Were they found? Were they stolen?
Though we can only speculate on their original source, we are positive of their authenticity. They match the certified originals perfectly, with no pitting or detail reduction usually indicative of a restrike. Their titanium oxide finish is perfect and the serial number fonts match the flown medallions.
All that separates these six are their missing dates.
According to representatives at the The Robbins Company, it was at least possible that a few medallions could have been engraved with a serial number but not the launch, landing and return dates. Employee shift changes or meal breaks could have created a distraction long enough that the unfinished medallions were set aside with those completed in error.
Given that these six medallions possessed nearly consecutive serial numbers — 161, 163, 164, 165, 168 and 169 — it was plausible that during a shift change this particular batch was mistakenly placed into the finished rack with only their serial numbers engraved.
Yet, based on what we know of other medallions in the series, there were still some questions to be answered.
Only the Apollo 7 and Apollo 8 medals were completely finished prior to flight. As they were returned scratched, it was subsequently decided that all future medals would be finished after being flown.
Of the individuals who could answer whether the Apollo 11 medallions were finished prior to flight, most are now deceased. The only person who might shed light on the issue, Apollo 11 Command Module Pilot and the Robbins Company contact for the flight, Michael Collins, was traditionally known not to make himself easily available.
Even if the Apollo 11 medallions were finished prior to flight, and we assumed the six were flown, the question still remained how they made their way to Florida.
Apollo 11 landed in the Pacific Ocean and because of a fear of lunar contamination, the astronauts and their possessions were quarantined in Texas. How then, did a batch of consecutively numbered flown medals surface at the Kennedy Space Center?
Fortunately, an opportunity to query Michael Collins did arise. His reply was surprising.
Collins intially shared that nine medals had gone missing, probably in his crew quarters at KSC prior to the launch. Later correspondence identified that the total number was ten medallions.
He remembered reporting the missing medallions to Alan Shepard's secretary, Gay. Shepard headed the Astronaut Office, which was the liaison between the astronauts and The Robbins Company.
Collins also confirmed that all the Apollo 11 medallions were serialized prior to flight. However, he could not say whether they were finished as well.
Unlike the other Robbins from the era, the Apollo 11 medals had a "flat" design; in other words, the medals did not display a sheen, permitting them to be finished prior to flight.
Collins volunteered that he was only responsible for a third of the medallions. He could not confirm whether any of Armstrong's or Aldrin's medallions went missing. So it at least possible that an equal number of each of theirs shared the same fate.
Based on what is known know however, there were
The quest for a definitive answer will continue.