Frontiers of Science:

Exploring Space with Stamps

By Dr. Sherwood B. Idso

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    The history of mankind’s greatest achievements is recorded in many ways—literature, music, art, and drama, to name but a few of the most obvious forms of human expression. Perhaps never thought of in this regard is the design and printing of stamps. Sixteen million collectors in the United States alone are ample testimony to the fact that this great hobby is much more than just an idle pastime. Indeed, the study of stamps can be a rich and rewarding experience and can greatly enhance one’s knowledge of special subjects such as space.

    Although the primary purpose of stamps is to help pay for the expense of transporting mail, a secondary purpose is to commemorate special events and to honor outstanding individuals for unusual achievements. Since the dawning of the space age with the first successful launch of an Earth satellite barely two decades ago, countries from around the world have recorded the march of progress in this area with a host of beautiful commemorative stamps. Such brightly colored and intricately designed stamps show the men and machines of science, their satellites and spacecraft, the cosmic destinations of exploratory probes, and the events that have created a whole new group of heros for the people of the globe.

    Ask your parents if they recall the first manned space flight of Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961, or the orbiting of the Earth by John Glenn on February 20, 1962. How about Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space? Then there was the first docking of two orbiting spacecraft and the famous walks in space of Aleksei Leonov and Edward H. White. Soon after came the orbiting of the moon by Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders, followed by the actual stepping onto the lunar surface by Commander Neil Armstrong of Apollo 11. Five other missions subsequently sent men to the moon’s surface and brought back chunks of it for scientific scrutiny here on Earth. Political differences were momentarily forgotten with the Apollo-Soyuz docking mission. American and Russian spacecraft joined together in Earth orbit and astronauts from both countries linked hands in space.

    Yes, postage stamps from many lands have chronicled man’s major steps into space; and the person who can combine the study of space with the collection of stamps will be doubly rewarded for his efforts.

    Here’s how you can get started. Visit your neighborhood post office—it’s as simple as that. You’ll find that you can begin a superb collection of space commemorative stamps with the “Space Stamp Collecting Kit” offered for sale by the U.S. Postal Service for only two dollars. In addition to 42 different non-U.S. stamps, the kit includes a 20-page stamp album with illustrated spaces for 70 stamps, additional insert sheets with mounting hinges, and the 32-page booklet, ABC’s of Stamp Collecting. In this booklet you will also find the addresses of some U.S. philatelic (stamp-collecting) societies, a list of some useful books and catalogues on the subject, and a partial list of stamp-collecting magazines and newspapers. From here you’re on your own, and in the area of space, not even the sky’s the limit.

    So blast off to an exciting world of adventure by exploring space with stamps. It’s a voyage of real discovery.

    On March 18, 1965, Russian cosmonaut Aleksei A. Leonov became the first man to take a “walk” in space. He was followed June 3 of that year by American astronaut Edward H. White, shown here with his lifeline connecting him to his Gemini IV spacecraft. Both events were commemorated by a matching pair of Hungarian postage stamps. (NASA photo.)

    American astronaut Alan B. Shephard, Jr., commander of the Apollo 14 mission, stands beside the U.S. flag he planted on the lunar surface. His action is recorded for history on this commemorative stamp from Liberia. (NASA photo.)

    American astronaut James Irwin and the Lunar Rover during the Apollo 15 mission are delightfully depicted on a colorful stamp from Equatorial Guinea. (NASA photo.)

    Scientist-astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt collects rock samples from the lunar surface. He and astronaut Eugene A. Cernan, Apollo 17 commander, are depicted on a stamp from Liberia in this important geological activity. (NASA photo.)