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Beta Cloth Patches

Background

Beta cloth is a fire proof material woven from teflon coated glass fibres. It was supplied to NASA by the Owens Corning Corporation for use as the outer layer of the Apollo space suits and in-flight garments worn by the astronauts after the Apollo 1 fire.

In order to reduce the use of flammable materials to a minimum it was logical that the mission patch, NASA insignia, U.S. flag, and name tag used on each space suit and coverall from Apollo 7 onwards would also be produced in beta cloth rather than embroidered cloth. In general these beta cloth patches were never made available commercially and are now sought-after collectibles.

Beta cloth patch production

Owens Corning contracted out the printing of NASA's beta cloth patches to the Screen Print Corp. of Coventry Rhode Island. There the insignia were screen printed onto rolls of beta cloth using Roma Chemical Questral pigments.

These were then cut into 9" squares (or 5½" in the case of the ASTP patches) with the printed designs at the centers. The hand-drawn 'cut lines' for the edges of these squares are often visible on one or more sides of beta cloth patches, as can be seen in the example on the left.

The beta cloth patches were supplied to NASA in this form, and many were carried as souvenirs on missions without any further treatment.



The small number of patches actually intended to be worn on garments had a roughly 1" wide square of sizing (a stiffening glue or paste) applied around the insignia in order to prevent or reduce fraying of the cut edges, as shown in the example on the right.

These patches were then cut to around 5½" square and the edges of the cloth were then hemmed - folded back and sewn in place - usually into a roughly 4½" square for mission and NASA insignia patches, as shown in the example below.

Beta Cloth patch use by NASA

When most people think about the beta cloth patches used by the Apollo astronauts they are probably picturing those used on the outside of the astronauts' white space suits.

As can be seen in the photo on the left of Neil Armstrong prior to the Apollo 11 flight, each Apollo astronaut wore a mission insignia, NASA insignia, US flag and name tag on the chest and shoulder of their space suits (officially Pressure Garment Assemblies or PGAs).

However, another complete set of beta cloth patches was worn on the inflight coverall garments (ICGs) which the astronauts wore in the spacecraft during most of the mission, as shown in the photo below.

The mission patches, NASA insignia patches and US flag patches worn on the ICGs might be hemmed differently to those worn on the pressure suits but they were still the same designs.

However, the name tags used on the pressure suits and in-flight garments were of different designs and were also used in a number of other locations. This is described in more detail in a dedicated section below.

Those deep-pocketed collectors in the market to buy patches actually worn by the astronauts during the missions themselves should be careful to determine exactly which patches they're dealing with and where they were worn.

Another thing often overlooked by collectors is the fact that the majority of beta cloth patches prepared for use on clothing were likely those used on the coveralls of the NASA and contractor technicians who worked in the white room and in the suit-up area at the Cape.

As can be seen in the photo on the left, NASA technicians in the suit-up area and white room usually wore both ission and NASA insignia patches, and contractor technicians often wore a mission insignia beta cloth patch on their coveralls alongside the insignia of their own company.

However, the bulk of the production runs of mission insignia beta cloth patches were always destined to be souvenirs, either used by NASA for presentations, given directly to the astronauts for their personal use, or packaged and prepared to be carried as souvenirs on the flights themselves. These patches were carried flat, sealed in lots of 25 in plastic packages like the one shown on the right.

Although we don't know how many beta cloth patches were flown on each Apollo mission we do know that Jim Lovell carried 450 in his PPK on Apollo 13. Other astronauts may have carried similar numbers, although the weight restrictions on earlier missions may have limited the numbers.

Commercial availability

Most beta cloth patches were never made available commercially, which greatly increases their desirability as collectibles.

There are exceptions, however. Owens Corning released a set of patches which included a US flag beta cloth patch, a Man On The Moon commemorative design, and an Apollo 11 mission insignia variant without the "APOLLO 11" text and with the background in blue ink instead of black.

Owens Corning also produced a couple of small lucites containing beta cloth mission patches - one with an Apollo 11 insignia highlighting the role of beta cloth in the Apollo program, and the other celebrating the Apollo 15 Lunar Rover with a trimmed Apollo 15 beta cloth insignia in the lucite.

Finally, an Owens Corning framed commemorative presentation was produced in the mid 70s which incorporated trimmed beta cloth insignia from all the Apollo missions.

Overall, apart from the US flag patch none of the beta cloth patch designs used by NASA were ever sold directly to the general public in uncut form.

Despite this, from the number of unflown and uncut beta coth mission patches that appear on the secondary market today it is clear that the original production runs must have been very significant - certainly into the thousands of examples.

Beta Cloth patch values

Apart from those patches flown on missions, the most valuable beta cloth patches are those that were prepared for use on garments. Very few examples exist in this form, with the few that I've seen to date coming from the collections of former Apollo suit technicians.

When it comes to regular beta cloth patches, examples on full 9" x 9" cloth squares (5½" squares for ASTP) are the most sought-after.

Issues that detract from beta cloth patch values include:

  • Misalignment of printed elements - if one or more of the ink colors is signficantly misaligned this will lower the appeal of a patch. This is actually quite common in patches but perhaps this shouldn't be taken too far as it's worth noting that the beta cloth mission patches worn by Armstrong and Aldrin on their Apollo 11 space suits both show significant misalignment.
  • Trimmed patches - patches that have been trimmed close to the printed image are generally worth less than those on full-sized cloth squares, with the exception of examples prepared for use on garments.
  • Creases - creases are almost impossible to remove from beta cloth, so any creases on a beta cloth patch will definitely have an impact on its value.
  • Scrapes - the ink on beta cloth patches can be scraped off fairly easily so damaged patches are not uncommon.
  • Soiling - discoloration will obviously affect the appeal of patches, although some careful cleaning may be possible.

Values fetched by individual beta cloth mission patches on eBay over the last few years have varied quite wildly, but as of 2013-2014 a steady supply of patches from several eBay sellers appears to have saturated the market leading to a pretty consistent fall in prices to the point where many patches are being sold in the $29 to $49 range.




Beta cloth name tags

Unlike the mission patch beta cloths, name tag beta cloth patches were used not only on the space suits and in-flight coverall garments but on other items of clothing and equipment too. In addition, name tags were actually produced in several distinct styles with different combinations of surname and initials and even different typefaces.

As far as I can see from photographic evidence at least three distinct styles of name tag were used in the Apollo era. Below I've tried to identify exactly where each of these styles was used.

Type I name tag - showing only the surname of the astronaut (e.g. "ARMSTRONG"). This style of name tag was used on the:

Type II name tag - showing the first initial and surname of the astronaut (e.g. "N. ARMSTRONG"). Used on the:

Type III name tag - showing the surname of the astronaut in the distinctive Phenix American typeface. This style of name tag was used principally on the:

Name tags of each type may well have been used on other crew-specific garments or the covers of other items of equipment that I just didn't find good photos of, so the list above should not be considered exhaustive.

Although most name tags appear to have used black ink, the type II name tag on the top cover of Armstrong's PLSS Oxygen Purge System (OPS) unit was printed in red ink whilst Aldrin's was printed in black. The name tags on the back of Armstrong's PLSS cover and on the PLSS RCU were most likely also printed in red, and indeed red ink seems to have been used for the commander's PLSS tags on all the Apollo lunar missions.

Note that on some Apollo flown space suits now on display in museum collections you will see a type II name tag used on the chest rather than the type I you would expect to see.

A good example is Bill Anders' Apollo 8 flown suit, as shown in the display shown on the left.

Why the discrepancy? Simply because the actual flown beta cloth patches were removed post-flight (except for Apollo 11) to be given to the astronaut as souvenirs and were then replaced with new patches. In the case of name tags these replacement patches were not always of the 'correct' type.

It's also worth noting that for some pre-Apollo tests (e.g. 2TV-1) type II name tags were in fact used on space suits, and they also appear on many training suits (sometimes worn in portrait photos), which were obviously never intended for flight. FInally, on prototype suits and inflight garments used in early Apollo training sessions you will sometimes see completely different name tag styles with much larger lettering.

In terms of value it is significant that beta cloth name tags of all kinds are pretty scarce relative to mission insignia patches so they tend to sell for fairly significant sums. Most name tags are just on cut cloth, so suit-prepared (hemmed) examples will fetch a premium, as will patches bearing the names of the most famous astronauts.

NASA vector insignia Beta Cloth Patch

The NASA vector insignia beta cloth patch is shown below right. The printed image measures 3" (76mm) across the center section.

The patch was generally worn on the crew's space suits hemmed into a square or rectangle, although for Apollo 9 Schweickart's NASA insignia was sewn into a pentagonal shape to fit the available space on his EVA suit.

Note that on Apollo 15, 16 and 17 the NASA patch was worn on the right shoulder rather than the chest.

Good cleanly-printed examples of the NASA insignia beta cloth patch without creases and on a full 9" x 9" cloth sell for around $50 to $155.

2TV-1 Beta Cloth Mission Patch

The 2TV-1 beta cloth mission patch is shown on the right. The printed image measures 3" (76mm) high.

The patches were apparently hemmed around the edges of the printed design itself on the space suits of the 2TV-1 crew.

Good cleanly-printed examples of the 2TV-1 beta cloth mission patch without creases and on a full 9" x 9" cloth sell for anywhere between $40 and $199.

Apollo 7 Beta Cloth Mission Patch

The Apollo 7 beta cloth mission patch is shown on the right. The printed image measures 3" (76mm) high.

Although on later missions the beta cloth patches were usually attached as hemmed squares, on the Apollo 7 crew's space suits the patches were apparently hemmed around the edges of the printed design itself as shown below.

Good cleanly-printed examples of the Apollo 7 beta cloth mission patch without creases and on a full 9" x 9" cloth sell for anywhere between $50 and $130, with most examples falling in the $50 to $75 range.

The beta cloth mission insignia and name tag from Wally Schirra's Apollo 7 space suit were originally sold in 1994 and since resold in 1996 and again in 2011 for $6632.[1]

Apollo 8 Beta Cloth Mission Patch

The Apollo 8 beta cloth mission patch is shown on the right. The printed image measures 4¾" (122mm) across.

On the Apollo 8 crew's space suits the patches were hemmed around the edges of the design itself, whilst leaving a narrow white border, as shown below.

Good cleanly-printed examples of the Apollo 8 beta cloth mission patch without creases and on a full 9" x 9" cloth sell for anywhere between $80 and $237, with a single example selling at $405.

Apollo 9 Beta Cloth Mission Patch

The Apollo 9 beta cloth mission patch is shown on the right. The printed image measures 3" (78mm) across.

The patch was worn on McDivitt and Scott's space suits hemmed into a rectangle roughly 4"x3½" across as shown below.

On Schweickart's EVA suit, which had a different layout on the chest, the mission was hemmed into a hexagonal shape as shown on the left.

Note that the NASA 'meatball' logo patch was hemmed into a pentagon to fit the logo into the available space.

Good cleanly-printed examples of the Apollo 9 beta cloth mission patch without creases and on a full 9" x 9" cloth sell for anywhere between $25 and $97, with one example fetching $128.

Apollo 10 Beta Cloth Mission Patch

The Apollo 10 beta cloth mission patch is shown on the right. The printed image measures 3" (75mm) across.

The patch was worn on the crew's space suits hemmed into a square roughly 3¾" across as shown below.

Good cleanly-printed examples of the Apollo 10 beta cloth mission patch without creases and on a full 9" x 9" cloth sell for anywhere between $50 and $150, with one example fetching $223.

Apollo 11 Beta Cloth Mission Patch

The Apollo 11 beta cloth mission patch is shown on the right. The printed image measures 3½" (86mm) across.

The patch was worn on the crew's space suits hemmed into a square roughly 4" across as shown below.

Good cleanly-printed examples of the Apollo 11 beta cloth mission patch without creases and on a full 9" x 9" cloth sell for anywhere between $100 and $305.

A oversize version of the Apollo 11 beta cloth patch also exists where the printed design measures approximately 10" across. It is not clear what this was intended for, although it was perhaps to be worn on the backs of technicians' overalls. In any case these patches are very scarce, with examples selling for between $99 and $555.[2]

It's also worth noting that a commercial version of the Apollo 11 beta cloth mission patch was also produced with a blue background and without the "APOLLO 11" text at the top. These versions are worth less than the version used by the crew, generally selling for $26 to $58.

Apollo 12 Beta Cloth Mission Patch

The Apollo 12 beta cloth mission patch is shown on the right. The printed image measures 3" (77mm) across.

The patch was worn on the crew's space suits hemmed into a square roughly 3½" (89mm) across as shown below.

Good cleanly-printed examples of the Apollo 12 beta cloth mission patch without creases and on a full 9" x 9" cloth sell for anywhere between $50 and $201.

Apollo 13 Beta Cloth Mission Patch

The Apollo 13 beta cloth mission patch is shown on the right. The printed image measures 3½" (89mm) across.

The patch was worn on the crew's space suits hemmed into a square roughly 4" across as shown below.

Good cleanly-printed examples of the Apollo 13 beta cloth mission patch without creases and on a full 9" x 9" cloth sell for anywhere between $50 and $417.

Apollo 14 Beta Cloth Mission Patch

The Apollo 14 beta cloth mission patch is shown on the right. The printed image measures 4"x3½" (103mm x 89mm).

The patch was worn on the crew's space suits hemmed into a rough octagon roughly 4½" across as shown below.

Good cleanly-printed examples of the Apollo 14 beta cloth mission patch without creases and on a full 9" x 9" cloth sell for anywhere between $50 and $160.

Apollo 15 Beta Cloth Mission Patch

The Apollo 15 beta cloth mission patch is shown on the right. The printed image measures 3½" (88mm) across.

The patch was worn on the crew's space suits hemmed into a square roughly 4½" (112mm) across as shown below.

Good cleanly-printed examples of the Apollo 15 beta cloth mission patch without creases and on a full 9" x 9" cloth sell for anywhere between $50 and $374.

Apollo 16 Beta Cloth Mission Patch

The Apollo 16 beta cloth mission patch is shown on the right. The printed image measures 3½" (89mm) across.

The patch was worn on the crew's space suits hemmed into a square roughly 4½" across as shown below.

Good cleanly-printed examples of the Apollo 16 beta cloth mission patch without creases and on a full 9" x 9" cloth sell for anywhere between $40 and $144.

Apollo 17 Beta Cloth Mission Patch

The Apollo 17 beta cloth mission patch is shown on the right. The printed image measures 3½" (88mm) across.

The patch was worn on the crew's space suits hemmed into a square roughly 4½" (112mm) across as shown below.

Good cleanly-printed examples of the Apollo 17 beta cloth mission patch without creases and on a full 9" x 9" cloth sell for anywhere between $40 and $155.

SMEAT Beta Cloth Mission Patch

The Skylab Medical Experiments Altitude Test (SMEAT) beta cloth mission patch is shown on the right. The printed image measures 3" (76mm) high.

The patches were worn hemmed into squares on the orange coveralls of the crew.

Good cleanly-printed examples of the SMEAT beta cloth mission patch without creases and on a full 9" x 9" cloth sell for anywhere between $79 and $399.

Skylab I Beta Cloth Mission Patch

The Skylab I beta cloth mission patch is shown on the right. The printed image measures 3½" (90mm) across.

The patch was worn on the crew's space suits hemmed into a square roughly 4½" (112mm) across as shown below.

Good cleanly-printed examples of the Skylab I beta cloth mission patch without creases and on a full 9" x 9" cloth sell for around $35 to $70, with one recent high sale at $227.

Skylab II Beta Cloth Mission Patch

The Skylab II beta cloth mission patch is shown on the right. The printed image measures 3½" (90mm) across.

The patch was worn on the crew's space suits hemmed into a square roughly 4½" (114mm) across as shown below.

Good cleanly-printed examples of the Skylab II beta cloth mission patch without creases and on a full 9" x 9" cloth sell for around $35 to $120, with one recent high sale at $230.

Skylab III Beta Cloth Mission Patch

The Skylab III beta cloth mission patch is shown on the right. The printed image measures 3½" (86mm) across.

The patch was worn on the crew's space suits hemmed into a square roughly 4½'" (114mm) across as shown below.

Good cleanly-printed examples of the Skylab III beta cloth mission patch without creases and on a full 9" x 9" cloth sell for around $40 to $50, but with some recent high sales at $115 to $227.

ASTP Beta Cloth Mission Patch

The ASTP beta cloth mission patch is shown on the right. The printed image measures roughly 3½" (90mm) across.

The patch was worn on the crew's space suits hemmed into a square roughly 4½" (114mm) across as shown below.

Good cleanly-printed examples of the ASTP beta cloth mission patch without creases and on a full 5½" square cloth sell for around $40 to $130.

NASA 'worm' logo Beta Cloth Patch

The NASA 'worm' logo beta cloth patch, as used by the Apollo-Soyuz crew in 1975, is shown on the right. The printed text measures 6" (76mm) across, and the cloth 7" x 5".

As can be seen below the patch was worn high on the right shoulder of the A7L suits.

A second version of the patch was produced for use on the inflight coveralls with lettering measuring 3⅓" across on a 5" square of cloth.

Most photos of the ASTP crew in training show the NASA vector insignia on their suits as the NASA 'worm' logo was only introduced shortly before the flight itself. These patches were produced in beta cloth form only for this mission, with the later versions used for the Shuttle project EVA suits being produced in Orthofabric instead.

The only examples of these patches to have surfaced in recent years came from the Deke Slayton estate. Several examples of each version of the patch were sold in mixed lots.

Footnotes

[1] Sales of flown spacesuit or in flight garment beta cloth patches:
      RRAuction Lot (ex-Slayton).
      Schirra's Apollo 7 flown spacesuit mission patch and name tag :
         Odyssey auction Feb 1994 sold at just under $1,500
         Superior sale lot 236 Oct 26, 1996 sold at $2,185
         RR auction Space Sale lot 310 Sep 22, 2011 sold at $6632.40 (inc fees)

[2] Sales of oversize Apollo 11 beta cloth patches:
      Lunar legacies auction Lot 237 Jun 26, 2010 sold at $379.50 (inc fees) [on 20x21" cloth]
      eBay item no. 130398987583 Oct 14, 2010 sold at $76 [trimmed close & creased]
      RRAuction lot 207 Jan 20, 2011 sold at $385.20
      eBay item no. 400201180193 Mar 15, 2011 sold at $555
      eBay item no. 400339129747 Nov 16, 2012 sold at $407.52 [trimmed close & creased]
      eBay item no. 160997069665 Apr 3, 2013 sold at $180.07
      eBay item no. 200915873598 Apr 15, 2013 sold at $249 [Buy-it-now]

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