Sunday, February 19, 2006

Working Art: The Apollo 12 Checklists of Linda Gordon

Sometimes art takes the form of a historical recreation of an actual working object. The artist attempts to recreate copies of a one of a kind artifact of historical importance for the masses.

As an example, in 1823, Noted engraver, William J. Stone was commissioned by the US Government to make a limited number of copies of the Declaration of Independence. The reasons cited for copies to be made of this "one of a kind" historic document ranged from the deterioration of the original to the request by the original signers for a copy to place in their personal archives. Stone used a wet ink method to draw ink off the original vellum and onto a copper plate where the artist engraved the plate using the ink as his template. Stone used the original document's medium of vellum to make the copies, so that they would be as close as possible to the real document. They were so close to the original document that the US Government purchased the copper plate for safe keeping and for future reproduction of the artifact.

How does the aforementioned example relate to space history and artifact preservation?

The answer to that question came in 2005. Linda Gordon, artist and wife of Richard Gordon, Apollo 12 Command Module Pilot, became concerned that the current practice of breaking apart Gemini and Apollo Era flown checklists or Flight Data Files (FDF)* for individual sale would result in the loss of historical evidence for future generations.

Linda commenced a project to duplicate the checklists that Dick maintained in his collection after his return from the Moon. The results are virtually exact replicas of the original checklists. The full color Apollo 12 mission patch on the cover in the above photograph is one of the few clues the differentiate the replicas from the original Flight Data File.

Linda told me that the initial attempt at the preservation was to photocopy each checklist. The purpose of copying the FDFs was to provide a complete record for future historical study in the event that the checklists were broken up by succeeding generations. It was during that work that she had the idea of using her skills as an artist to replicate the Flight Data Files in a limited set of 50 editions.

After studying the project, Linda contacted a printer with the specifications necessary to produce each edition. Working together, Linda and the printer copied and printed on the proper paper stock. I had the chance to see the replicas in person at San Antonio this year and the results were striking.

To illustrate the similarities between each checklist, I have placed example pages from both the replica and the original Flight Data Files from my own collection. The replica will be the first photograph of each type of example.

The first three photographs, starting with the replica shown above, show an representative page titled "P37 Block Data." The card was used to provide the burn times necessary for course corrections during a lunar mission.

As mentioned previously, the initial photo is of the replica. The above picture shows an actual blank "P37 Block Data" page from the original Apollo 17 CSM Updates checklist used on the mission. Visually they are very similar, but the feel of the card stock really completes the whole artistic process required to make each replica.

The final example of the "P37 Block Data" card is one of the actual pages used by Harrison Schmitt during the Apollo 17 mission. This example shows how the pages were used during the actual lunar missions.

These next two pages show graphic images both the replica and an original Flight Data File. The star charts were used during the mission to locate stars that were necessary to determine the spacecraft's position in space. The above photograph is from the replica.

The above photograph is of an actual star chart used on the Apollo 11 mission. Do a visual comparison of both star charts, because the card stock is virtually identical.

There was one thing I learned as I collected Flight Data Files. There were pink color pages in many of the checklists. The pink color represented emergency procedures for various parts of the flight.

In comparing the pink pages, Linda captured the proper pink color that NASA used originally on the checklists. The only difference between Linda's checklist and an actual pink page from one of Gene Cernan's LM checklists is the slight fading on the original FDF page's color due to aging.

The back cover provides the only real acknowledgement that the checklist is a replica. Linda has signed the back cover, labeled the edition number and stamped a copyright notification on each back cover of the Flight Data Files. Linda has followed a similar tradition that William J. Stone took when he identified the 200 copies of the Declaration of Independence. Stone engraved his name into the copper plate used to create the replicas, thus identifying the replicas from the original artifact.

The artist has, from this collector's standpoint, very successfully replicated the original Apollo Era checklists to the point of requiring the application of her name and the edition number on the back cover.

In 2006, Dick and his fellow Apollo 12 cremate, Alan Bean pose with my copy of the Apollo 12 Operations Checklist that Linda Gordon created.

The beauty of the faithful replication of the Flight Data Files is two fold. Linda has created an artifact that can be used for research or display by historical researchers. It also can be handled by the space artifact collectors without the worry of destroying an original. Also, although the price is high due to the need to hand make each replica in order to maintain such high fidelity, the price allows more collectors the ability to acquire a relic of the Space Age.
*The accurate term of the checklists is Flight Data File. The initials "FDF" were used in communications during the missions. I have used the terms interchangeably through out this article, but they all refer to the same artifact.