Let’s get Pluto and New Horizons on a postage stamp


Postage doubled between the time of Project Mercury and the Moon landing. And airmail was all the way up to a dime. Stamps from the Greg Scheiderer collection.

I find it fascinating how often my interest in space and astronomy sends me off on a mental trip to another place and time. Beyond the notion that my eyeball often captures photons that left their point of origin before the dawn of human civilization, I sometimes find that the hobby moves me around even within my own lifetime.

It happened again today. I learned during my morning reading about the newly launched effort to get the U.S. Postal Service to issue a commemorative stamp depicting the New Horizons mission to Pluto. This leads me to a confession: I’m a former philatelist.

This is a deep, dark secret that not even my wife knew about. I hadn’t had the stamp album out of the box in probably 40 years. Yet the thing kept following me through nine moves, and probably even more efforts to jettison junk. Somehow, this morning, I found the box, opened it up, and went in search of some of those space stamps I remember so well. As the collected works spread out to take up most of the dining room table, my wife walked in and, with a puzzled look, asked “What’s all that stuff.” Well, its the stamp collection, of course. (It had been in that box she kept asking me to move to another spot after the latest move, back into the house after last year’s remodeling project.)

More stamps

Many nations issued stamps commemorating space heroes. Here is a stamp from Mongolia depicting Yuri Gagarin, a Qatar stamp of Neil Armstrong, one from Romania with Wally Schirra, and a Hungarian stamp of John Glenn. From the Greg Scheiderer collection.

Among the valued items in my stamp box are my stamp collecting merit badge pamphlet and my handwritten notes, on 3×5 cards, for the presentation I made to earn the badge. In the notes I listed three reasons for stamp collecting: money, fun, and learning about other countries. At least one of those is true; stamp collecting is the only reason I know where Qatar is. The Middle-Eastern country issued some gorgeous stamps in the day. Though, now that I think about it, I’m having fun with it today, too! As for the money part, I don’t expect that the stamps a 12-year-old could buy in 1969 for 50 cents per bag amount to much cash value, but if you’re an appraiser who found this post by Googling “million-dollar space stamps” please let me know. (I’ll find a way to monitize this blog yet!)

I wonder if my interest in space had something to do with my interest in stamp collecting. As a kid growing up in the 1960s I was fascinated by the space race, and the stamps of many countries depicted the achievements of space adventures. This wasn’t limited to the United States and the Soviet Union. Many countries issued space commemoratives. Soviet-bloc nations were big on what the Russians were doing, but even tiny places like Dominica, Togo, and Rwanda issued space stamps. Space exploration and the Moon landing captured the imagination of the entire world, not just little space dreamers like me. Somehow my stamp collection languished for four decades. But today I’m glad I have it.

Proposed Pluto stamp

Concept art by Dan Durda for a postage stamp commemorating the New Horizons mission to Pluto. The New Horizons team is pushing for the stamp through an online petition to the U.S. Postal Service.

I’m a big fan of Pluto and think the stamp idea is a worthy one. If we’re going to stick with busting Pluto down to dwarf status, the least we can do is to remind snail-mail users and stamp collectors that the first space mission out that way is due to arrive in July 2015. Organizers say we’ve got to start now in order to have the stamp ready for sticking in three years. It can take that long to navigate the red tape!

So go here and sign the online petition to request a Pluto and New Horizons stamp. The aim is to collect 100,000 signatures to send to the USPS, and they’ve got 4,300 of them as of this writing. That’s not much progress, but the effort is just under way, and getting a boost from the likes of the Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society, Alan Boyle at Cosmic Log, Space.com, Sky & Telescope, and a host of others. Boyle is a big Pluto fan and is the author of The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference, one of three books about the ex-planet about which I wrote last year.

Let’s show our love for space nuts, stamp collectors, and dwarf planets. Power to Pluto!