August 19, 2010

Alan Shepard To Be First Astronaut On Stamp

According to the U.S. Postal Service, an original Mercury astronaut and a spacecraft set to orbit the planet Mercury will be featured on two United States postage stamps to be released next year.

Alan Shepard will be honored together with NASA's MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging, or MESSENGER, probe, which is due to start orbiting the planet closest to the sun in March 2011.

The two stamps are tentatively scheduled for release next spring.

Former Air & Space magazine art director Phil Jordan and science fiction/fantasy artist Donato Giancola will design the stamps based on NASA imagery.

According to the stamp collecting newspaper Linn's Stamp News, the Postal Service announced the two space stamps at the American Philatelic Society Stamp Show held last week in Virginia.

Alan Shepard, who became the first American in space 50 years ago next May, will be the first American astronaut to be honored on a U.S. stamp.

Since the early 1970s, U.S. stamp selection criteria has required an individual be deceased for at least five years before becoming eligible for consideration of the honor.  Events of "historical significance" are limited to commemoration on anniversaries in multiples of 50 years.

Shepard died of leukemia at 74-years-old in July 1998.

The 2011 MESSENGER-themed "First Spacecraft to Orbit Mercury" stamp will be the third time the Postal Service has chosen to commemorate a mission studying Mercury on a stamp.

Until MESSENGER launched on August 3, 2004, Mariner 10 was the only probe to be sent to Mercury.  MESSENGER will become the first spacecraft to enter orbit around Mercury on March 18, 2011.  The spacecraft has made one flyby of Earth, two flybys of Venus, and three flybys of Mercury.


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