I really don’t know how I missed this, but…
Like most people I know, I eagerly watched the recent fly-by of Pluto by the New Horizons space probe via news feeds on my Facebook page. I’ve had the “space bug” ever since witnessing Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon via grainy black & white images when I was a wee lad of three-and-a-half (probably my earliest memory). Mr. Armstrong even autographed a photo for me about ten years later. I am still a geek at heart and in the 21st century, Facebook provides most of my space news via “likes” on numerous NASA and other science-related pages.
But I completely missed the philatelic aspect. It was only this week that I stumbled across an eBay listing that mentioned the fact that the 29-cent Pluto “Not Yet Explored” stamp issued by the United States on 1 October 1991 had been affixed to the exterior of New Horizons and sent on its way to Pluto and beyond.
Articles on Astronomy.com and collectSPACE tell the full story but the short version is that the Pluto stamp was part of a set of ten commemorating NASA’s exploration of the Solar System to that point. Each of the nine planets (Pluto not yet having been demoted) and the Moon had their image accompanied by a depiction of one of the spacecraft that had studied it. All, that is, but the Pluto stamp which bore the inscription “Not Yet Explored.” Apparently, this rankled a few scientists during the First Day of Issue ceremony held at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It may have even provided some motivation for a future mission. At any rate, some of these scientists felt that the stamp needed to be included on the New Horizons probe.
There are actually nine different objects hitching a ride on this mission – a few ashes from the cremated body of Clyde Tombaugh (the New Mexican who discovered Pluto); the names of some 434,000 people who participated in the “Send Your Name To Pluto” offer by NASA; a CD_ROM picturing the scientists who worked on the New Horizons development; state quarters from both Maryland (where New Horizons was built) and Florida (from where it was launched); a small piece of the Space Ship One private spacecraft; and two U.S. flags accompany the Pluto stamp.
All that needs to be done now if for a new Pluto stamp to be issued by the United States Postal Service. There is even a petition to that effect.