Planetary Sciences News

Special Delivery: Post Office to Issue Space-Themed Stamps

Letter writers will be able to adorn their envelopes this year with full-disk images of the planets, Pluto, and the full Moon, as well as Star Trek icons.

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Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the television premiere of Star Trek, the new Star Trek Forever stamps showcase four digital illustrations inspired by classic elements of the television program: the Starship Enterprise inside the outline of a Starfleet insignia, the silhouette of a crew person in a transporter, the silhouette of the Enterprise from above, and the Enterprise inside the outline of the Vulcan salute (Spock’s iconic hand gesture). Credit: ©2016 USPS
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the television premiere of Star Trek, the new Star Trek Forever stamps showcase four digital illustrations inspired by classic elements of the television program, two of which are shown here. Credit: ©2016 USPS

This year’s new batch of U.S. postage stamps will celebrate more than flowers, fruits, and famous Americans. The U.S. Postal Service will also issue stamps about space exploration—both real and imagined—the agency has announced.

A 16-stamp sheet entitled “Views of Our Planets” showcases images of our solar system’s planets. Another four-stamp sheet labeled “Pluto—Explored!” commemorates the historic first flyby of Pluto that took place last July. Other stamps display vivid pictures of the full Moon and illustrations celebrating the 50th anniversary of the television premiere of Star Trek.

Celebrating Planetary Science and Space Exploration

These stamps could help spur public interest in science and engineering, said Richard Fienberg, director of communications for the American Astronomical Society. The “Views of Our Planets” stamp collection “is really quite profound,” he told Eos, noting that each planet is not just a celestial object but a real and unique world. “Even the phrase ‘Our Planets’ is profound, as it reflects the recent discovery that our planetary system is one of billions of such systems throughout the galaxy.”

This new sheet of four stamps, called “Pluto—Explored!,” shows an artist’s rendering of the New Horizons spacecraft and the spacecraft’s image of Pluto taken near its closest approach. In 2006, NASA placed a 29-cent 1991 “Pluto Not Yet Explored” stamp in the New Horizons spacecraft. In 2015, the spacecraft carried the stamp on its history-making mission to Pluto and beyond. Credit: ©2016 USPS
This new sheet of four stamps shows an artist’s rendering of the New Horizons spacecraft and the spacecraft’s image of Pluto taken near its closest approach. Credit: ©2016 USPS

“Photos like the ones on the stamps, and discoveries like the prevalence of planets around other stars, inspire students to become scientists and engineers, guaranteeing that the process of discovery will continue,” he added.

In 1991, the United States issued a Pluto stamp that stated “Pluto: Not Yet Explored.” One of those stamps flew aboard the New Horizons spacecraft that last year visited the dwarf planet. The 2016 Pluto stamp sheet emphasizes “Pluto—Explored!”

The old stamp “served as a rallying cry for many who wanted to mount this historic mission of space exploration,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. “Now that NASA’s New Horizons has accomplished that goal, it’s a wonderful feeling to see these new stamps join others commemorating first explorations of the planets.”

Commemorating solar system exploration is not enough for some people. “Pluto isn’t the end of the solar system; it’s the beginning of the rest of the solar system, and there’s much more left to explore,” said Emily Lakdawalla, senior editor and planetary evangelist for the Planetary Society. “I’d like to see a new challenge from the postal service, to explore unexplored distant worlds, like Haumea, Eris, or Sedna—or even some of the worlds in other solar systems, none of which had even been discovered when the Postal Service issued its ‘Pluto: Not Yet Explored’ stamp in 1991.” Nonetheless, she told Eos, she will be “thrilled” to use the new stamps on her correspondence.

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2016), Special delivery: Post office to issue space-themed stamps, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO043025. Published on 6 January 2016.

© 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0