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Article:
The Grand Turk Tracking Station
(of the Turks and Caicos Islands)
by
Joseph J. Frasketi, Jr.

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Turks Island FDC/JJF cachet#1
Figure 1: Turks & Caicos Scotts #325, 329, 330 First Day Cover,
cancelled June 20, 1977,
with a general purpose space printed cachet issued by JJF (the author).

The Turks and Caicos Islands marked the 25th anniversary of the U.S. tracking station on Grand Turk Island with a series of 6 stamps issued on June 20, 1977.

Grand Turk Island which is the capitol of the Turks and Caicos group is located in the sunny Caribbean off the north-east coast of Haiti. One usually thinks of any Caribbean island as lush and tropical with coconut palms gracing the shoreline and natives frolicking along its beaches, however these islands situated between the Bahamas and the island of Hispanola were overlooked by Mother Nature in receiving outdoor beauty and a life of ease for its people. Grand Turk is a small flat scrubby looking stretch of land that covers only 12 square miles and one has to search hard for the few trees of any significance that have survived the exposure to the harsh elements of the environment. It's an island whose major source of income once was producing a product from the two of the things in abundance there -- the scorching sun and the ocean deep -- rock salt.

In the early years of the space program Grand Turks importance was not in what nature could provide but what man had installed on its surface in making it a major missile and space tracking station. Grand Turk as a tracking station had its beginning on June 15, 1951 when the Jamaican Agreement was reached by Great Britain and the United States of America for construction and operation of the Grand Turk Auxiliary Air Force Base. However the signing of the station agreement was delayed until January 15, 1952 and this date is probably considered the official date which the Turks and Caicos government used for its issuing these 25th anniversary stamps in 1977.

Construction of the major facilities was completed by August 1953 and was declared operationally ready to support a missile test on August 22, 1955 after installation of its radar, telemetry, missile command and control equipment and other station electronic support equipment was cheked out. Finally on November 26, 1955 the station supported its first missile test by tracking a Snark, the first missile to fly with a stellar guidance system and the first to travel the distance of over 700 miles down the Atlantic Missile Test Range to Grand Turk.

Stations stretching from Cape Canaveral Florida to the Indian Ocean made up the Atlantic Missile Test Range which was once dubbed the largest shooting gallery in the world. Its official title is the Air Force Eastern Test Range (AFETR). Grand Turk was #7 in this chain of range tracking stations and although it as well as the other stations were once called auxiliary air force bases and later auxiliary air fields the only connection they had with the U.S. Air Force is that they were under their jurisdiction. Each had a United States Air Force base commander who was usually the only military man assigned to any station. The major work-force was U.S. civilians working for private companies who had contracts with the U.S. Air Force to maintain and operate the tracking and housekeeping duties.

Since this early activity in 1955 the Grand Turk tracking station has supported practically all of the minor and major missile and rocket systems, from the now obsolete air breathing missiles like the Snark, Bomarc and the Matador to the mighty Saturn rocket that carried men to the Moon. Grand Turk also played important roles in National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) programs first with the installation of a Minitrack NASA site to track Vanguard satellites and later installations were constructed for the manned space projects. While other tracking stations on Antigua and Ascension have had seperate NASA manned space flight tracking installations operating independently from the AFETR stations this was not the case at Grand Turk and this station should not be considered a NASA station. Special NASA equipment was installed at a few of the Eastern Test Range stations, like Grand Turk, to support the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. However in these programs Grand Turk was considered a "satellite" station of Cape Canaveral, Forida with all data and information being relayed to the Cape Canaveral Mission Control Center for dissemination. Thus the importance of Grand Turk was often overshadowed by the activities and reports emanating from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The Grand Turk Island tracking station officially closed down February 29, 1984. It became obsolete due to advances in space technology, something that it helped to achieve, and was replaced by data gathering satellites.

Turks/Caicos stamp, scott#329 Figure 2: Turks & Caicos Scotts #329, Friendship 7 launch
On the day of February 20, 1962 when the United States of America launched its first orbiting astronaut the name Grand Turk was thrust into the limelight and made front page news around the world. Astronaut John Glenn, after completing 3 orbits around the Earth, splashed down in Grand Turk waters, was successfully recovered and taken to Grand Turk Island for post de-briefing, medical tests and press conferences. Grand Turk Island has never been the same since! Even though this occurance is now past history and greater space achievements have occured elsewhere this one big event will live in the minds of the islanders as well as those tracking personnel who were fortunate enough to be stationed there and consider it as something very special.

Figure 3: Turks & Caicos Scotts #325, Glenn's Space Capsule
Turks/Caicos stamp, scott#325 The flight of John Glenn in his Mercury capsule is now commemorated a second time on the 1977 postage stamps by the Turks and Caicos Islands. The first time was in 1972 on the 10th anniversary of his launch and splashdown. A stamp in the 1977 series depicts the launch of the Mercury Atlas rocket on the 25 cent value (Scott #329) and John Glenn's Mecury capsule, Friendship 7, in orbit is on the 1 cent value (Scott #325). These 1977 stamps are in a slightly different format from the 1972 commemorative stamps.

Turks/Caicos stamp, scott#327 Figure 4: Turks & Caicos Scotts #327, TPQ-18 Radar Installation. Only one of these new 1977 postage stamps directly relate to a tracking facility at Grand Turk and unfortunately it is not identified on the stamp. The 6 cent value (Scott #327) is labeled "Tracking Station on Grand Turk" which implies that this is the entire tracking station but this is not the case. It should have been labeled as a tracking "radar site" as there were other different sites scattered about the island performing different functions that comprise a whole tracking station. This 6 cent stamp shows the TPQ-18 radar installation which was located on the east side of the island and it was a fairly new site as it was erected in 1963, in comparison with other tracking sites installed since 1955 when the station became operational.

Figure 5: Turks & Caicos Scotts #328, The Apollo Lunar
Module, which the astronauts used to land on the Moon.

Turks/Caicos stamp, scott#328 Turks/Caicos stamp, scott#326 An Apollo Lunar Module, is shown on the 20 cent stamp (Scott #328) but is is labeled a "Moon Landing Craft", while the 3 cent stamp (Scott #326) is titled "Moon Buggy Rover" and shows only one astronaut aboard the two man Moon roving vehicle. This was an important mode of transportation for the astronauts of Apollo 15, 16 and 17 while exploring the Moon's surface

Figure 6: Turks & Caicos Scotts #326, The Lunar Rover, which the astronauts used to travel on the Moon thereby increasing the amount of Lunar surface that could be explored.


Turks/Caicos stamp, scott#330 Figure 7: Turks & Caicos Scotts #330, Telstar 1 communications satellite. The final stamp in the 1977 series is the 50 cent value (Scott #330) showing technicians checking out the Telstar 1 satellite in a laboratory, probably just before launch at Cape Canaveral Florida. This scene depicted has no connection whatsover with the Grand Turk Tracking Station anniversary, as compared to the other stamps in the series of which the station was actively involved. Telstar 1 was only one of the many satellites tracked by the Grand Turk station and may have been chosen as a stamp design for this set as it was the first instantaneous relay communications satellite. It was launched on July 10, 1962 and it was a major breakthrough in worldwide communications and the subject of numerous stamps from other countries all over the world for this historical event.

Turks Island FDC/JJF cachet#2
Figure 8: Turks & Caicos Scotts #326-328 First Day Cover,
cancelled June 20, 1977,
with a general purpose space printed cachet issued by JJF (the author).


Click on the title below to see my other Grand Turk article:
The Grand Turk Island Connection with The Project Mercury/Glenn Flight.
Featured on Island Search!

Grand Turk Island tracking station covers for purchase
can be found on these price lists

Apollo 12 | Apollo 13 | Apollo 14 | Apollo 15 | Apollo 16


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