Space Cover #201: Apollo 11 Flight Directors
Collecting autographs on space covers is a popular off-shoot of cover collecting. The most commonly sought autographs are those of flight crews on launch and related mission covers. However, covers signed by other individuals who have played a key role in the space program can be just as interesting and challenging.
NASA's flight directors are the men and women who actually run space missions. The flight control division was founded by Chris Kraft, who in the early 1960's recruited a cadre of bright, young engineers to direct space missions. While the astronauts actually fly the spacecraft, it is the flight directors on the ground who orchestrate the missions.
Some of the early flight directors, such as Kraft and his successor Gene Kranz, are legendary, while others are generally unknown to the public.
One such figure is Cliff Charlesworth (1931-1991). A physicist who first worked as a civilian for the military on the Pershing missile, Charlesworth joined NASA in 1962. During Project Gemini he was a flight director for the Gemini 9, 11, and 12 flights.
During Project Apollo, Charlesworth headed the "Green" flight team. He was a flight director for Apollo 8, 11 and 12. Later he was in charge of shuttle payload integration and eventually deputy director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston. He retired from NASA in 1988 and died suddenly 3 years later at the age of 59.
As "Green Flight" during Apollo 11, Charlesworth was in charge of the team that supported the launch of the Apollo 11 crew of Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin, and also the moonwalk by Armstrong and Aldrin. Charlesworth worked closely with "Green" CAPCOM astronaut Bruce McCandless during the Apollo 11 mission.
After I attended the Apollo 11 launch as a college reporter, in 1970 I sent Apollo 11 (C39) first day covers to some of the supporting personnel requesting an autograph. The only flight director to whom I sent a request was Cliff Charlesworth; I chose him because his was the only autograph of the major flight directors I had not obtained from previous missions. My through-the-mail request to Charlesworth at what was then the Manned Spacecraft Center was answered a couple of weeks later with an Apollo 11 FDC signed in blue ballpoint "Cliff Charlesworth / A-11 Flight Director."
The cover remained in my collection for years, but after Charlesworth's all too young death, I decided to make a project of getting autographs of the other three Apollo 11 flight directors on the cover. I call this process, which can take patience and many years, "building a cover."
Gene Kranz (of Apollo 13 fame) was "White Flight" on Apollo 11. I obtained his autograph through-the- mail when he was signing. He attended a UACC show in San Antonio a few years ago but has not done autograph shows recently because arthritis makes it painful for him to sign.
I was fortunate that both Gerry Griffin ("Gold Flight" ) and Glynn Lunney ("Black Flight") attended the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation's Astronaut Autograph and Memorabilia Show at the Kennedy Space Center last November. There I was able to have them also autograph the cover.
Thus, this cover signed by all 4 Apollo 11 flight directors was a project that took over 40 years to complete. The key signature is that of Cliff Charlesworth, who was not as well-known as his colleagues Kranz, Griffin and Lunney and who passed away at a relatively young age. His autograph on covers is much less common than the other three,
There are many possibilities for autographs on space covers besides the flight crews.
Imagination, patience and good luck are important in "building" such covers.