Space Cover #208: Triskaidekaphobia! Steve Durst, SU 4379
This week's Space Cover of the Week has an incredible back-story.
Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell is stunned looking at the "Honolulu Star-Bulletin" newspaper aboard his recovery ship, USS Iwo Jima, LPH-2, after landing his crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft back on Earth on what was the "do or die" Apollo 13 recovery, April 17, 1970.
Jim Lovell's crew included Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise and Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert, and their spacecraft Odyssey's oxygen tank number 2 had exploded 240,000 miles from Earth, April 13, 1970, and half the crew's oxygen for their mission now was gone.
Their situation was extremely dire and the crew's mission was crippled, but now several days later, using the lunar module Aquarius as a space lifeboat, making an emergency return, and a dead on splashdown in the Pacific, the crew was now safely and almost unbelievably back on Earth.
The crew's perilous return now seemed like it had been a very bad dream. Against almost insurmountable odds, the Apollo 13 crew had made it back. The heroic return to Earth by the Apollo 13 crew of Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert in their crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft, indeed may have been NASA's finest hour.
It was now late June, 1982, at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. NASA Administrator Jim Beggs emphatically stated to the staff in his office, "There's not going to be... a Shuttle 13, so come up with a new numbering system" for the space shuttle fleet.
The STS-41C mission cover above is the crew's signed cover for the mission that would have been number 13. Because of Administrator Beggs' aversion to the number 13, more formally called Triskaidekaphobia, fear of the number 13, formal designation of space shuttle missions would be changed starting with the strange looking STS-41B mission designation replacing STS-11.
The complex designation, starting with the number 4, stands for the mission in government fiscal year 84, KSC is a 1 for the second digit, and the last digit, the alphabet letter B, stands for the second space shuttle flight of the fiscal year.
While this reworking of the shuttle mission designations seems to make sense, shuttle mission STS-41C then would not be the 13th space shuttle mission. Was it intentional or luck?
Fast forward again to May 26, 2006, to the oral interview of veteran astronaut Bob Crippen, pilot of Columbia's STS-1 mission, and commander of space shuttle Challenger's, STS-41C mission, and Challenger's, STS-41G mission, by NASA interviewer Rebecca Wright.
During his oral interview, Bob Crippen made an enlightening comment of why NASA had changed the numbering of NASA's space shuttle fleet after the space shuttle STS-9 crew's mission. Crippen added, "The next (shuttle mission), 41-C, was going to be our first rendezvous. We had a satellite that was disabled that they needed repaired, so it was similar to what I'd done before, only an extension of it. So maybe that's why I got picked to fly it. Of course, I mentioned it was 41-C that originally was STS-13, and my friend Jim Beggs, who was the Administrator of NASA, had Triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13), and he said, 'There's not going to be... a Shuttle 13, so come up with a new numbering system.' So we did come up with this complex system for numbering the shuttles during that period of time."
But, in conformance to the wishes of Administrator Jim Beggs, shuttle mission STS-41C did not fly as STS-13. It flew earlier than that assuming the mission of what would have been STS-11.
The astute space shuttle cover servicer of the Titusville Moonport Stamp Club had accurately determined that space shuttle flight for STS-41G would be the 13th space shuttle mission and included this information in the printed cachet of the STS-41G shuttle mission cover below.
This distinction of being the correct shuttle mission for number 13 is not evident when collectors review many of the space shuttle covers available in the marketplace for the STS-41G mission. The information of the mission being the 13th shuttle mission seems to have been somewhat downplayed. Maybe this understated information served a purpose and really was due to Triskaidekaphobia!