Space Cover 139: James Lovell Czech in Space
One of my favorite areas of collecting is tracking station covers as it shows the wide range of support sites and personnel around the world that it takes to actually accomplish a space mission. At a recent stamp show I was able to obtain a number of tracking station covers out of the 'dollar box.' As I was comparing the ones I bought to those in my collection I came across one that has me stumped... the cover is from Site C-6, Eglin AFB, Florida, Space Tracking Station.
Site C-6 at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida is a Space Tracking Station. It is home for the US Air Force's phased-array space surveillance system dedicated to performing all-weather, day-night location and tracking of man-made objects. This is the most powerful radar in the world and is the only phased array radar capable of tracking satellites in deep space orbit. The radar can track an object the size of a basketball at a distance of more than 22,000 nm.
Radar construction began in October 1962 and testing was scheduled for May 1965; but four months prior, the building and all equipment were destroyed in a fire caused by arcing electrical equipment. After rebuilding, the Air Force took ownership of the site in September 1968 with the 20th Surveillance Squadron, or 20th SURS, as the primary operator. Space operations began in February 1969. The 20th SURS participated in every Apollo mission after becoming operational. Here is a photo of the radar.
Back to the cover. The top cover is the original Site C-6 cover I had in my collection. In the bottom cover it has several interesting twists based on the fact that Apollo 13 commander Capt. James A. Lovell, Jr. is of Czech descent (his mother was Czech).
First, the cover has two stamps — one showing the Czech flag and the other an Apollo 8 stamp (Lovell was a member of the Apollo 8 crew). Second, additional wording was added to the cachet: "Zdat Apollu 13 a Capt Lovellovi, Američanovi českého původu!" which roughly translates to "On Apollo 13 is Capt. Lovell, an American of Czech origin!" Finally, the extra wording had hand written modifications in red pen - the "c" modified to č in Američanovi and českého, the e modified to é in českého, and u modified to ů in původu.
The extra wording has the exact same coloring as the other parts of the cachet so it appears it was added by someone at the site itself and by someone who wanted to be sure the wording was correct.
Who did it? Only selected covers? If so, how were they selected? Thoughts anyone?