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  When and why was my autograph signed?

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Author Topic:   When and why was my autograph signed?

Posts: 1423
From: Fairfax, VA, USA
Registered: Feb 2007

posted 08-21-2008 04:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for stsmithva   Click Here to Email stsmithva     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I thought collectSPACE members might find interesting an astronaut autograph item I added to my collection a few months ago.

And just for fun, I will only partially describe it, and write some clues, before I post the full details and a scan tomorrow. The first person who can post exactly:

  • when it was signed, to within six months; and
  • why it was signed
...will be sent by me a postcard of the Apollo patches, signed by Gene Kranz. (It really is possible to figure those out by reading the clues carefully.)

It was signed by the following astronauts. I will list...

The Apollo mission:
Who signed it (and who did not)

  • Apollo 1:
    Grissom, Chaffee (not White)
  • Apollo 7:
    Schirra, Eisele, Cunningham
  • Apollo 8:
    Borman, Lovell, Anders
  • Apollo 9:
    Scott, Schweickart (not McDivitt)
  • Apollo 10:
    Stafford, Young, Cernan
  • Apollo 11:
    Armstrong, Aldrin, Collins
  • Apollo 12:
    Conrad, Gordon (not Bean)
The mission commanders of the rest of the Apollo missions (really just one more new name):
  • Apollo 13:
    The aforementioned Lovell (not Haise, Swigert)
  • Apollo 14:
    Shepard (not Mitchell, Roosa)
  • Apollo 15:
    The aforementioned Scott (not Irwin, Worden)
  • Apollo 16:
    The aforementioned Young (not Duke, Mattingly)
  • Apollo 17:
    The aforementioned Cernan (not Schmitt, Evans)
  1. Listing the astronauts by the Apollo missions is misleading.

  2. It is also signed by Gordon Cooper, Theodore Freeman, Charles Bassett, Elliot See, and Clifton Williams.

  3. White, McDivitt, and Bean could have signed it, but they weren't there that day. The other Apollo crewmembers could not have signed it.

  4. These astronauts were all gathered together to learn about something that weighed approximately 59 pounds.

  5. Most of the signers printed their surnames and initials, like this: "Aldrin, E.E."; "Grissom, V.I."; "Anders, W.A."; or just surnames like "Armstrong" and "Eisele." I know that a printed signature is not ideal. But the provenance of this item was fantastic, and it's interesting to have almost unique examples of their signatures, including The Most Legible Anders Autograph Known to Man. I have an Armstrong inscribed photo he was kind enough to send me in 1987 (saved the SASE!), and now it's neat to have another of his autographs written such that you can read every letter in "Armstrong."

    A few of the names are written in cursive, like "Collins", "Young", and "R.B. Chaffee." The only full, cursive signature is "Alan B. Shepard." Most signed in pencil. (Shepard and Armstrong are in pen.)

(Clue #5 is pretty much helpful only for reminding people who have already seen one of these for sale - there are about seven we know of. The other clues will help anyone!)

I will post a scan and more details tomorrow, or later if no one has figured out the when and why yet. Good luck!

Lou Chinal

Posts: 1001
From: Staten Island, NY
Registered: Jun 2007

posted 08-21-2008 05:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lou Chinal   Click Here to Email Lou Chinal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'm going to say it had to be before Oct. 31, 1964. because of Theodore Freeman. I would also guess that McDivitt and White were tied up training for Gemini IV. Bean assigned to Apollo applications. Part of the Gemini on board computer? Sometime in early 1964? It's a guess.


Posts: 307
From: Oregon
Registered: Feb 2003

posted 08-21-2008 06:21 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for RichieB16   Click Here to Email RichieB16     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'm going to say it was June 1, 1964. They were together as a group to learn about the IBM guidance computer which was to be used on Gemini flights.


Posts: 143
From: Leesburg, VA USA
Registered: Apr 2003

posted 08-22-2008 08:32 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for jamato99   Click Here to Email jamato99     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'm going to say.... I have no guess at when or why it was signed, but I can't wait to see the scan!


Posts: 3622
From: Midwest, USA
Registered: Jul 2005

posted 08-22-2008 11:04 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for mjanovec   Click Here to Email mjanovec     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Same reason Richie stated, but I'll guess March 23, 1964. My scan of the sign-in sheet for that day is missing White, McDivitt, and Bean.


Posts: 1423
From: Fairfax, VA, USA
Registered: Feb 2007

posted 08-22-2008 10:36 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for stsmithva   Click Here to Email stsmithva     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Lou figured out first that it is (unfortunately) possible to figure out the "when" because Theodore Freeman signed it, and he was correct that the item concerned the (59-pound) Gemini onboard computer. (So Lou, e-mail me your address so I can send you the Gene Kranz postcard!)

It's a sign-in attendance sheet for the March 23, 1964 training session conducted by IBM computer specialist Al Minnick. After he passed away, someone bought five of these sheets and a signed Group 3 photograph from his estate, and put them on eBay as one lot in 2005. That lot was apparently later broken up, and I got this sheet from a dealer last year.

Here is a photo of the whole sheet..

and a close-up of just the top half..

and finally just the bottom half.

It took me six months to pay for this item and I had to sell an assortment of my other autographs, but I knew I had to have it. I get chills (the good kind, I mean) when I think of Michael Collins sitting in the front row and signing it, then passing it to Dave Scott, who passed it to Jim Lovell, who passed it to Neil Armstrong, and so on. It's signed by everyone who later flew a Gemini mission (except for Gemini 4) using the skills they learned on this day.

Some of the other sheets were signed by White, Bean, Slayton, Carpenter, and McDivitt. The March 31 sheet was auctioned by R&R last October. You'll see that it's signed in full in pen, and included White, Bean, and McDivitt, which is great. On the other hand, mine has Grissom, Cooper, Conrad, Borman, and See.

Somewhere out there is what I think is the best one. The March 30 sheet has everyone who signed mine, plus White and Bean.

If you click here you can read a passage from the book Gemini: Steps to the Moon by David J. Shayler. According to this, there were eleven two-hour computer training sessions, which unlike most of the Gemini training classes all astronauts attended, not just the Group 3 astronauts.

I wrote letters to all of the surviving signers, asking them questions such as:

  • What did the training consist of? (In general, with perhaps a couple of specifics.)
  • Was it common for so many astronauts to train together, or was this perhaps the first time you worked with some of your fellow astronauts?
  • Do you have specific memories of any of your fellow astronauts from during this training?
  • How did you use the knowledge gained in this training during your missions?
For the most part, those letters didn't make it past whatever staff they have and I got some nice form letters declining autographs. However, I did get some interesting responses. One astronaut hand-wrote on my questionnaire "The sign-in sheet looks legit to me" and initialed it, which wasn't exactly what I was looking for but was good to hear. Two moonwalkers inscribed photos "To a great student at [my] Elementary School" for our fundraising silent auction. The strangest response: I wrote to the publisher that holds the copyright for Carrying the Fire, thinking that, what the hey, I might reach Michael Collins that way. I got a rejection letter. Not rejecting my request for information, but a standard "Your manuscript does not meet our needs at this time" letter.

If anyone has a professional/social relationship with any of the surviving signers and thinks they might be willing to answer these questions (probably for a fee), I would appreciate it if you would talk to them.

I will be meeting seven of them at the KSC/ASF event in November and I'll probably get to chat with them for a bit, but I'm not about to monopolize any of them for 20 minutes, and I know I won't get anything in writing there.

I hope you found this interesting. Happy collecting!

Lou Chinal

Posts: 1001
From: Staten Island, NY
Registered: Jun 2007

posted 08-23-2008 03:31 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lou Chinal   Click Here to Email Lou Chinal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks! That's quite a find. I didn't even know that there were sign-in sheets.


Posts: 1423
From: Fairfax, VA, USA
Registered: Feb 2007

posted 11-11-2008 10:53 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for stsmithva   Click Here to Email stsmithva     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
At the ASF/KSC event, I was able to show the 1964 sign-in sheet for Gemini onboard computer training to several astronauts who had signed it almost 45 years ago.

None of them remembered anything specific about those two weeks of training, but I did learn something great. I had always wondered who "Frisbee" and "Four, J.P" were. Computer technicians who also had to be trained? Turns out they didn't exist: they were gag names the astonauts would sometimes write in on such sign-in sheets!

Jim Lovell told me that Frisbee was an officer made up by some of the aviators: specifically, a caveman in an Air Force uniform. And then Walt Cunningham told me that "Four, J.P." was another gag sign-in: it referred to JP-4, which some of you will probably know was the primary jet fuel used between 1951 and 1995 by the U.S. military.

Cunningham wrote a couple of sentences explaining this on a questionnaire about the training I had printed. I loved getting that background information and insight into the astronauts' morale.

P.S. I can't tell from the handwriting who the culprits might have been. Any guesses?

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