Apollo 15 postal covers incident

Envelope with mission patch logo, three stamps and two postmarks
A "Sieger cover"

The Apollo 15 postal covers incident, a 1972 NASA scandal, involved the astronauts of Apollo 15, who carried about 400 unauthorized postal covers into space and to the Moon's surface on the Lunar Module Falcon. Some of the envelopes were sold at high prices by West German stamp dealer Hermann Sieger, and are known as "Sieger covers". The crew of Apollo 15, David Scott, Alfred Worden and James Irwin, agreed to take payments for carrying the covers; though they returned the money, they were reprimanded by NASA. Amid much press coverage of the incident, the astronauts were called before a closed session of a Senate committee and never flew in space again.

The three astronauts and an acquaintance, Horst Eiermann, had agreed to have the covers made and taken into space. Each astronaut was to receive about $7,000. Scott arranged to have the covers postmarked on the morning of the Apollo 15 launch on July 26, 1971. They were packaged for space and brought to him as he prepared for liftoff. Due to an error, they were not included on the list of the personal items he was taking into space. The covers spent July 30 to August 2 on the Moon inside Falcon. On August 7, the date of splashdown, the covers were postmarked again on the recovery carrier USS Okinawa. One hundred were sent to Eiermann (and passed on to Sieger); the remaining covers were divided among the astronauts.

Worden had agreed to carry 144 additional covers, largely for an acquaintance, F. Herrick Herrick; these had been approved for travel to space. Apollo 15 carried a total of approximately 641 covers. In late 1971, when NASA learned that the Herrick covers were being sold, the astronauts' supervisor, Deke Slayton, warned Worden to avoid further commercialization of what he had been allowed to take into space. After Slayton heard of the Sieger arrangement, he removed the three as backup crew members for Apollo 17, though the astronauts had by then refused compensation from Sieger and Eiermann. The Sieger matter became generally known in the newspapers in June 1972. There was widespread coverage; some said astronauts should not be allowed to reap personal profits from NASA missions.

By 1977, all three former astronauts had left NASA. In 1983, Worden sued, and the covers were returned to the astronauts. One of the postal covers given to Sieger sold for over $50,000 in 2014.

Background

Three astronauts in space suits without helmets
The Apollo 15 crew. Left to right, David Scott, Commander; Alfred Worden, Command Module Pilot; James Irwin, Lunar Module Pilot.

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.[1] 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.[2]

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.[3] Such unflown philatelic covers were often gifts for the astronauts' friends, or for employees of NASA and its contractors.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6]

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.[7] 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,[8] when one sold for $156,250.[9]

Image taken on the Moon showing an astronaut canceling an envelope (due to the poor quality, the envelope cannot be seen)
Scott cancels an envelope on the Moon.

The Apollo 15 mission began when the Saturn V launch vehicle 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).[10] 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][11] That cover was returned to the Postal Service after the mission,[12] and is now in the Smithsonian Institution's National Postal Museum.[11]