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The GEMINI FLITELINE Medals
© Howard C. Weinberger, 2008
Although the astronauts were focused intensively on the success of their missions and staying alive, the idea of carrying a few mementos aboard their historic space flights for self, family, and friends was something they did still consider and have prepared. The first manned space missions, the six Mercury missions, flew odds and ends like dimes, paper money and a few personal items.
Beginning with the Gemini program, someone, still unknown, took the initiative to have small coin-like medals made for the flights. They were designed with the mission emblems on the front and mission dates engraved on the reverse. Of the twelve Gemini missions, ten of them, Gemini 3 through Gemini 12, were manned.
There is a mission medal produced for each of the manned Gemini missions. Some of the medals have surfaced over the years in their original boxes that have the name Fliteline on them. In the absence of hard evidence to date, the collecting community has therefore elected to refer to these Gemini medals as The Fliteline Medals.
The medals do not have a makers mark. The specifics seem to have been lost with time and there is no certainty as to who the marker was. Other than the Fliteline clue, the Balfour Company has been the only other name to come up in a few conversations with some of the astronauts, but nothing has been reliably confirmed. The Balfour Company is probably best known for making school class rings. Unfortunately, circumstantial evidence and the testaments of the astronauts are the only way to provide even this basic background about these enigmatic, yet very important medals.
- The Fliteline Medals are not numbered.
- There is no population data on the Fliteline Medals.
- There are sterling medals and gold-plated over sterling medals, which are both marked as sterling.
- There are brass metals and what look to be silvered brass medals, which may in fact be another type of base metal. No metal analysis has been done to date.
- The same company produced them all.
THE BEST WE CAN FIGURE AND WHAT WE DO KNOW
The fact that the medals are not numbered is frustrating to collectors because that leads to the issue of not knowing how many were produced. In discussions with a number of astronauts, it is accepted that a relatively small number of them were produced, probably between 100-200 of each. They were purchased through the Astronaut Office and available only to the astronauts. These were not open to purchase by other NASA employees or contractors. They were a private affair and all arranged within the Astronaut Office.
They should all be considered as flown medals. Any of these medals that have been offered thus far have come directly from the astronauts directly or their families, and all have stated that they were flown. I agree with this conclusion based upon another point. The Robbins Medals, the next generation of flown medals, that took over for the Fliteline medals, began with the first manned Apollo mission, Apollo 7. The history and data for the Robbins Medals is solid and reliable. All Robbins Medals that were produced for Apollo 7 though Apollo 14 were flown. There were no unflown medals. Apollo 7 and the Robbins Medal tradition began in 1968. The Gemini missions operated in 1965 and 1966. It seems logical that the Fliteline Medals would have set the precedent, therefore acceptable to believe that all were flown.
Another point to consider is the very small size of the Fliteline Medals. Weight was always a major consideration on all manned missions. The Fliteline Medals are approximately a quarter to a third of the size and weight of the upcoming Robbins Medals. As the programs matured and experience was gained, weight restrictions seemed to ease a bit. In fact, it is interesting to observe that the Robbins Medals became progressively larger as each Apollo mission flew.
There has been some commentary written suggesting that there were 100 medals struck for each mission; 90 in sterling and 10 in gold-plated silver, but that has yet to be definitively confirmed.
As to why some were make of sterling and others not was probably a monetary issue. The astronauts paid for these out of their own pockets, and in those early days, they were not making much. My own personal conclusion is that who ever was in charge of handling a mission order was given a choice by the manufacturer as to what metal they wanted them struck from. Obviously, a metal like brass as compared to silver would be less expensive. I believe it may have been that simple. To date, I have not found any mix of metals used for the same flight. In other words, all medals for a mission were either made of silver or brass or other base metal. For instance, all Gemini 5 medals found thus far have been sterling. There have been no brass or base metal ones discovered. And, all Gemini 8 medals found thus far are brass or base metal and no sterling ones have been reported.
I have noticed that under magnification, the brass or base metal medals seem to be covered with a thin coat of clear lacquer. This was probably applied to avoid tarnishing or oxidation.
The following is the listing of Gemini Fliteline Medals and their compositions known to date. Both silver and gold plated or colored versions are believed to exist for all the missions:
|Gemini 6||Brass or base metal|
|Gemini 7||Brass or base metal|
|Gemini 8||Brass or base metal|
|Gemini 10||Brass or base metal|
|Gemini 12||Brass or base metal|
Although this report is anything but conclusive, it is the first attempt to reach some conclusions about these great and historic medals.