After the start of the Space Age with the launch of Sputnik I on October 4, 1957, astrophilately (space-related stamp collecting) began. Nations such as the United States and USSR issued commemorative postage stamps depicting spacecraft and satellites. Astrophilately was most popular during the years of the Apollo program's Moon landings from 1969 to 1972. Collectors and dealers sought philatelic souvenirs related to the American space flight program, often through specially-designed envelopes (known as covers). Cancelling covers submitted by the public became a major duty of the employees of the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) post office on space mission launch days.
The American astronauts participated in creating collectables. Beginning in the late 1960s, Harold G. Collins, head of the Mission Support Office at KSC,[a] arranged for specially designed envelopes to be printed for the different missions, and to be canceled on the launch dates. Such unflown philatelic covers were often gifts for the astronauts' friends, or for employees of NASA and its contractors. Although it was not publicly known until September 1972, 15 of the men who entered space as Apollo program astronauts before Apollo 15 had agreed with a West German named Horst Eiermann to autograph 500 philatelic items (postcards and blocks of stamps) in exchange for $2,500. This included a member of each mission between Apollo 7 (1968) and Apollo 13 (1970). These items were not taken into space.
The astronauts were allowed to take Personal Preference Kits (PPKs) into space with them. These small bags, with their contents limited in size and weight, contained personal items the astronauts wanted to be flown as souvenirs of the mission. As the spaceflights moved toward and culminated in the Moon landings, the public's fascination with items flown in space increased, as did their value.
Covers were prepared by the crews and flown on Apollo 11, Apollo 13 and Apollo 14. Ed Mitchell, lunar module pilot for Apollo 14, took his to the Moon's surface in a PPK. These were often retained by the astronauts for many years; Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong kept his until he died, and they were not offered for sale until 2018, when one sold for $156,250.
Scott cancels an envelope on the Moon.
The Apollo 15 mission began when the spacecraft blasted off from KSC on July 26, 1971, and ended when the astronauts and the Command Module Endeavour were recovered by the aircraft carrier USS Okinawa on August 7. Onboard Endeavour were Mission Commander David Scott, Command Module Pilot Alfred Worden and Lunar Module Pilot James Irwin. The Lunar Module Falcon, with Scott and Irwin aboard, landed on the Moon on July 30, and remained there for just under 67 hours. The mission set several space records and was the first to use the lunar rover. Scott and Irwin rode it to explore the area around the landing site during three periods of extravehicular activity (EVA). On August 2, before finishing the final EVA and entering the Lunar Module, Scott used a special postmarking device to cancel a first day cover provided by the United States Postal Service bearing two new stamps,[b] whose designs depicted lunar astronauts and a rover, commemorating the tenth anniversary of Americans entering space.[c] That cover was returned to the Postal Service after the mission, and is now in the Smithsonian Institution's National Postal Museum.