Farewell, Cassini

 

 

 

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Reflections from methane lakes on the moon Titan, seen by Cassini. Photo credit NASA.

This week, one of humanity’s most successful space missions came to an end as the Cassini spacecraft dives into the atmosphere of the planet Saturn. Cassini is the 4th spacecraft to visit Saturn, and has given the world a closer look at that planet and its moons than has ever been possible before. It has shown us the plumes erupting from icy Enceladus, and the sun shining off the methane lakes on Titan. As it heads toward Saturn, the craft will be guided on a series of moves through the inner rings of Saturn, to continue gathering scientific data and images for as long as possible.

 

 

Spacecraft are a popular theme for stamps around the world; NASA spacecraft have appeared on stamps from dozens of countries outside the United States. Cassini is pictured on several of these stamps.

 

 

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On this stamp from the Central African Republic, Cassini appears with a portrait of the Polish astronomer Copernicus, against a backdrop of Saturn.

 

 

 

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Madagascar also released a Cassini  stamp in 2011, in a set with 3 other spacecraft.

 

 

 

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The Maldives released an entire set dedicated to its 10th anniversary.

 

 

 

 

 

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Burundi also released a set of stamps, one with Cassini and the other depicting the Hubble Telescope.

 

 

 

Farewell, Cassini, and thanks for all the science!

 

 

 

[All images public domain or fair use.]

Stars and Stamps

 

 

One of 2016’s most popular Forever stamp sets was the National Parks set, with the stunning view of star paths over Mount Rainier being the stand-out image; this beautiful photograph made the cover of the official USPS 2016 Forever Stamp Yearbook. Astrophotographer and astronomy educator Matt Dieterich, who took the photo, talked to us about how this beautiful stamp came about.

 

 

Past and Present (PP): First of all, tell us a little bit about how you got started with astrophotography.

 
Postmaster General Dedicates National Parks Stamps: Special Dedication Ceremonies at 14 Locations Including Simultaneous Live Webcast from MD/VA Assateague Island National Seashore. Matt Dieterich, photographer of Mount Rainier National Park Stamp.Matt Dieterich (Matt): I began taking astrophotos in 2007 as a 16 year old in high school. My curiosity for the night sky was jump-started after taking an astronomy class in high school, thanks in part to a passionate and motivating teacher, Mrs. Batson from North Hills Senior High in Pittsburgh, PA. Even though my grades weren’t the best in her class, I was eager to learn about the constellations and night sky in the planetarium we had at school. That year in high school, I received a small telescope from my parents, but I wanted to show people what I was seeing through the telescope. I learned that connecting a camera to the telescope was a great way for me to share astronomy with others.

 

 

PP: How did you get started in astronomy education and outreach? Why is astrophotography an effective form of outreach for you?

 
Matt: For the last 10 years, the goal of my photography has been to use the images as astronomy education tools. I shared the photos with friends, family, my teachers, and on various astronomy forums online. I loved showcasing beautiful objects in the night sky that the human eye cannot see. For me, astrophotography is an incredibly effective outreach tool because it gets people excited about science. I am thrilled seeing how inquisitive people are about the photos, especially kids, during outreach presentations. Simply put, astrophotos spark creativity, curiosity, and inspiration for learning. As a firm believer in education by hands-on activities, astrophotography is a perfect way to get kids involved in science.

 

 

PP: How did this photo go from your camera to being on a stamp?

 
stamp setMatt: When I took my camera out after teaching an astronomy program at Mount Rainier National Park in June 2015, my goal was not to capture an image for a stamp. I drove down to Reflection Lake and setup my camera, tripod, and shutter release cable to capture a timelapse video. The Northern Lights were active that night, a rare event which happens maybe once every couple years at Mount Rainier. Weeks later I edited the timelapse video into my first star trails photo. This type of image is a great beginner way to capture the stars. I joke now realizing that my astronomy teacher in high school told me to try that technique 10 years ago when I started astrophotography… I guess I am glad I waited to create my first star trails under the right circumstances!

 

Serendipity connected me with a person in Washington D.C. looking for a national park night sky photograph to be on a Forever Stamp collection celebrating the upcoming National Park Service 100 year anniversary. My boss forwarded me the email from that person seeing if I had any astrophotos to submit to her that I shot from Mount Rainier. I gave her a link to my online gallery and she immediately fell in love with the Northern Lights star trails over Mount Rainier. A few days later I had confirmation that my photo would be on a stamp, which I had to keep a secret for 8 months until the official USPS press release.

 

 

PP: We are based in Washington, so of course we’re thrilled to see one of our most recognizable parks featured on a stamp. What was your favorite part of working at and photographing Mount Rainier National Park?

 

Matt: My favorite part about working at Mount Rainier National Park was sharing the natural resources with visitors. Everyone I was able to spend time with at the park was enthusiastic and connected to nature, which for me is a huge aspect to living a healthy life. Having lived in a big city my whole life, I very much enjoyed how quiet the park was as well. One joy of the National Parks is that they are preserved regions where nature can be observed and experienced with minimal impact of humans.Thanks to the quiet nature of Mount Rainier, time seemed to slow down and I was able to live fully in the present moment, a certain kind of peace I have been striving to find.

 

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Photo credit Matt Dieterich

As a photographer, living inside the park for 3 months helped me connect to the landscape. I was able to plan certain shots and wait for the weather to create the conditions that made for a unique photo. For instance, being at the park allowed me to create my first Astronomy Picture of the Day photo of the Perseid Meteor Shower from Sunrise, and of course the Northern Lights display seen in my Forever Stamp at Reflection Lake. In my experience, landscape and astrophotography require “being in the right place at the right time,” which means being on location at Rainier for months helped me create some incredible photos.

 

 

PP: Do you think it’s significant to have astrophotography represented on something as ubiquitous as a stamp? How does that advance your goals for education and outreach?

 

Matt: Having astrophotography represented on a stamp is huge. In today’s society, we have lost our connection to the night sky because city lights block out faint starlight. Sharing images that spark curiosity about what the night sky looks like away from bright city lights is something I care deeply about. I have used my stamp to help advocate for the protection and conservation of dark night skies during all my outreach programs. Most importantly, I showcase my work to raise awareness for reclaiming the night sky if we properly light our cities at night. I want my work to spark an emotional connection in the viewer. If we are not emotionally connected to the night sky like our ancestors were, will we want to become stewards of that resource?

 

 

PP: Finally, what’s it like to see your work on a real US stamp, and then on the Forever Stamp Yearbook?
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Matt: For me, seeing my work on a stamp is humbling, but I know there’s more I need to pursue via photography. Having my photo on a stamp taught me that the public views astrophotography as art, something they want to hang on their wall and enjoy for years to come. Little did I know a hobby of mine that started in high school would turn into a lifelong pursuit of sharing my passion for science and the outdoors with others through astrophotography.

 

Ironically, my I had no clue my stamp made the Forever Stamp Yearbook cover until a week ago. My high school chemistry teacher who I stay in touch with sent me the email link. I was shocked, and of course humbled again by the fact that the image is so well received.

 

 

You can find Matt’s work online here, complete with prints to order. He is also on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Space-Flown Coins

 

 

Sometimes a coin is more valuable because of where it’s been than what’s in it or how old it is. A small niche area of coin collecting is dedicated to space-flown coins and medals, and there’s more of them than you might think.

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John Young at age 34, pilot of Gemini 3

NASA has very careful regulations about what can be flown into space, both due to weight and mass restrictions and possible health issues (for instance, legendary astronaut John Young once got in a great deal of trouble for smuggling a corned beef sandwich onto a Gemini flight: the crumbs from the bread could have clogged the air filters.)
 

 

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Gemini 3 Fliteline medallion

The first official mission medallions created for the Gemini and Apollo missions were known as Flitelines, due to the name stamped on each individual box. These were struck in base metal, sometimes painted gold or silver; it is not known how many extant medallions were flown or unflown. All missions had a medallion designed, but the medallions for Apollo 1 were never flown, after the crew died in a training exercise at what is now Kennedy Space Center.

 

 

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Apollo 7 Robbins medallion

The next crewed Apollo mission was Apollo 7, which renewed the tradition of the medallions, now made by the Robbins Company of Attleboro, Massachusetts. NASA astronauts and personnel purchased the medallions (the only people allowed to do so); over 3000 of the medallions were flown during the Apollo missions. A few were struck in gold, and usually went to mission crew. Medallions in sterling silver have been struck for all crewed NASA missions, including those for Skylab and the space shuttle. (NASA has strict prohibitions against profiting off these medallions, but some do occasionally come up for sale, primarily through Heritage Auctions and RR Auctions. One such medallion sold for nearly $62,000.) Apollo medallions were kept in the Command Service Module, though a small few were actually taken down to the lunar surface.

 

 

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Alan Shephard’s signed silver certificate

But official medallions aren’t the only numismatic items to break the surly bonds of earth. Astronauts often carried coins or bills with them on missions as personal mementos. On the first flight of an American into space, Alan Shephard carried several silver certificates, which were later signed by the other astronauts; when John Glenn orbited the earth, he did the same. When Gus Grissom and John Young boarded Gemini 3, in addition to the infamous sandwich, they also carried 50 two-dollar bills.

 

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Louis Braille commemorative silver dollar

And the tradition continued even into modern spaceflight. In 2009, NASA presented space-flown Louis Braille Bicentennial silver dollars to the National Federation of the Blind. The coins were flown aboard the shuttle Atlantis’ Hubble servicing mission in May of 2009, and were the first coins to feature tactile Braille.

The Penny That Went to Mars

 

When NASA sent their Mars Science Laboratory (nicknamed Curiosity) to Mars in 2011, they included one unexpected object: a 1909 VDB Lincoln wheat cent. The penny was included on the mission as one of several calibration targets for the Mars Hand Lens Imager camera (MAHLI.)

 

R. Aileen Yingst, deputy principal investigator for the MAHLI camera, stated that at 14 micrometers per pixel, the photo of the penny was a demonstration of the imager’s best-capable return. This photo demonstrated that the camera was functioning as intended for close-up views of small objects on the Martian surface.

 

mars-rover-curiosity-calibration-targetsThe penny, along with another target, helps the camera with three-dimensional calibration. According to Space.com, MAHLI principal investigator Ken Edgett bought the VDB penny himself, to continue an old geology tradition. “The penny is on the MAHLI calibration target as a tip of the hat to geologists’ informal practice of placing a coin or other object of known scale in their photographs.” It also provides a familiar object for the general public to watch for in images from the rover.
Interestingly, the penny collected Martian dust during the 14 months between landing and the taking of the photo, despite being mounted vertically on the rover. This not only produces a more interesting picture of the coin, but gives NASA scientists additional information about how Martian dust behaves.

 

You really never know where a VDB cent will turn up!

Friday Odds and Ends, October 7

 

 

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A rare Roman gold coin has been unearthed at a dig in Jerusalem.

 

 

 

Do you know a teacher? Tell them about the numismatic lesson plans the US Mint offers for free.

 

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The fourth Annual Oklahoma’s Unique Coin Show is coming up on October 14-15.

 

 

 

 

 

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Are we at the beginning of a new space race? Boeing thinks they can beat both SpaceX and NASA to Mars.

One Small Step: When the Moon Landing Changed the World

 

 

47 years ago today, 2 men set foot on the moon for the first time in human history. This event captured the attention of the entire world; it is estimated that 500 million people (about 14% of total world population in 1969) watched the moon landing coverage live on television; it was the largest audience for a live broadcast at the time.  It’s no surprise that an event of that magnitude has been commemorated on coins and stamps as well.

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As with many historic events, the space program was celebrated with commemorative tokens. These were struck for all the missions, from the initial Mercury project up through the Apollo program. NASA and its astronauts were national heroes, and many space-themed collectibles were created during the 1960’s.

 

 

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The Apollo 11 mission, naturally, received special focus. By the time of the Apollo missions, the United States had pulled ahead in the space race, after coming in second to the USSR in nearly every milestone until the Gemini 3 mission. For Gemini 3, Gus Grissom (who died in the Apollo 1 disaster) and John Young (who went on to several Apollo missions as well as the Shuttle program) demonstrated the ability to change the orbit of their craft. Each Gemini mission had a special focus in order to build the knowledge and experience that was needed to safely reach the moon. The Apollo program took the information from the Gemini missions and set forth a daring but achievable plan to reach the lunar surface.

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On January 27, 1967, a fire broke out in the Apollo 1 capsule during a routine test. The combination of an oxygen-rich environment and the design of the escape hatch resulted in the death of the Apollo 1 crew: Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. NASA took time after the accident to reassess the module design and the cost of the space program. Flight Director Gene Kranz (most famous for his leadership during the Apollo 13 crisis) told the Mission Control team, “We were too ‘gung-ho’ about the schedule and we blocked out all of the problems we saw each day in our work.” New safety measures and procedures were put into place, and the Apollo missions continued. The Apollo 1 mission name was retired in honor of the lost astronauts, and Apollos 2 and 3 never flew. Apollo 4 lifted off in November of 1967, and the race for the moon continued.

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Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin

 

After successful trips around the moon with Apollos 8 and 10 (Apollo 9 was a test of all modules in low earth orbit), Apollo 11 launched on July 16, 1969. Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins were aboard; only Armstrong and Aldrin would land on the lunar surface, as Collins stayed behind with the spacecraft.

 

 

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On July 20, 1969, after a harrowing descent in which the “Eagle” lander ended up short on fuel and kilometers off course, Armstrong and Aldrin landed safely on the surface. Several hours later, the two astronauts descended onto the lunar surface, making history for their nation and for all of humanity.

 

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Apollo 11 mission emblem

Since the first moment when Armstrong’s boots touched the surface of the moon, the image of the first moon landing have become iconic. They have been featured in movies, videos, songs, and on everything from t-shirts to jewelry. The eagle and moon motif on the reverse of the Eisenhower and Susan B. Anthony dollars was based on the emblem for Apollo 11, since NASA was established during Eisenhower’s administration (the design was re-used for the Anthony dollar, though she had no connection to the program.)

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On the 47th anniversary of the first moon landing, we remember the sacrifices made to further the cause of peaceful exploration and scientific inquiry, and look hopefully to the future.

Friday Odds and Ends, June 10

New technology reveals machine instructions from 2100 years ago, revealing instructions and philosophy.

 

 

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What do you know about African stamps? Check out this great post about the stamps of Basutoland.

 

 

 

 

Are you a custodian of your coins, or an end consumer? Great thoughts on a tricky topic.

 

 

slimVirtual monsters make it into the real world, via highly anticipated new game, Pokemon Go.

 

 

 

 

When coin collecting feels like walking on ice.

 

 

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NASA’s JUNO spacecraft is set to enter Jupiter orbit next month.

Friday Odds and Ends June 3rd

Welcome to the Friday Roundup! This is where we share links and stories from the past week that caught our eye. Enjoy!

 

hawaiian.PNGHawaiian Island Stamp and Coin sent us a signed copy of their new Hawaiian Money catalog: thanks! It looks terrific!

 

 

 

 

The prestigious Alberto Francisco Pradeau Award was presented to Allan Schein by the Mexican Numismatic Society for his book on the Mexican “caballito” peso, Mexican Beauty.

 

Forever-stamps-views-of-Our-Planets-setThe USPS released two new stamp sets: Views of Our Planets and Exploring Pluto. The first shows the eight planets of the solar system in high-detail color imagery, while the Pluto designs showcase the newest photo of Pluto along with New Horizons, the NASA spacecraft that took the photo.

 

A mystery is solved when a family examines a little-known type of Australian love tokens.

 

CjxMoNeUgAIL7HAHobo nickels are a classic American art form, and they’re still going strong! Check out the Hobo Nickel Society website and Twitter to see some stunning examples of these unique coins. (Example shown is from artist Shaun Hughes.)

These Unforgettable Journeys Display the Best of Human Courage

Exploration has been a part of the human experience from the very beginning, and we have commemorated our journeys in every form of art imaginable. One of the most popular ways to memorialize our journeys has been on postage stamps. Here are a few of our favorites.

 

The 1930 Europe-Pan American Flight of the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin

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The LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin was one of the most-traveled airships of all time. Built in Germany in 1926-1928, the commercial craft was named after Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, pioneer of German airships. During its 12 years of operations, it flew more than 1 million miles in 590 flights.

 

The Graf first visited South America in 1930, as one stop on a flight between Spain, Brazil, and the United States. The ship offered passenger service, as well as express freight and air mail between all four countries. The first such flight left from Friedrichshafen on the 18th of May, 1930, before stopping in Seville and subsequently departing Europe.

 

The LZ 127 docked at Campo do Jiquiá in Brazil, to the welcoming shouts of more than 15,000 onlookers. It proceeded to Rio de Janeiro, then flew to Lakehurst, New Jersey; after departing for Seville on June 2, it returned to Germany. Two years later, the Graf had an established Germany-Brazil passenger, mail, and freight service; this route was active from 1932 to 1937.

 

graf zepplinFor many of its journeys, including the Europe-Pan American flights, the Graf found its funding from franked stamps on souvenir mail. Anyone could buy a stamp with the Graf’s design issued by Spain, Brazil, and the United States, which would be good for mail to be sent on one or more parts of the Graf’s route. In the United States, these stamps were issued in three denominations: $0.65, $1.30, and $2.60. However, since the United States was caught in the Great Depression during this time, very few stamps sold at such high prices. 1,135,000 of the $0.65 stamps were printed, with only about 20,000 sold or otherwise distributed. The numbers for the pricier stamps are low, too; for the $1.30 stamp, 1,005,000 were printed with only 30,000 distributed. The most expensive stamp only sold 5,000 of its 1,070,000 print run.

 

The stamps were withdrawn from sale on June 30, and over 3 million unsold stamps were destroyed; this made the Graf Zeppelin issues the smallest of the United States Post Office Department issues of the twentieth century.

 

Despite the low sales of stamps in the US, the Graf proved the feasibility of pan-Atlantic airship service. It offered regular services between Germany and South America in the summers for five years. The increase in commercial airplane service, as well as the high cost of the gas used in the zeppelin, contributed to the decline of demand for airship services, and the Hindenburg disaster made such journeys seem unsafe to the general public.

 

The LZ 127 was grounded the day after the Hindenburg crashed, and removed from service after its arrival in Friedrichshafen on May 8, 1937. In mid June, the Graf was taken to Frankfurt on its final flight, deflated, and opened as a public museum. Attempts to revive the airship program failed due to tensions between the United States and Germany. On March 4, 1940, Air Minister Hermann Göring ordered the ship to be scrapped for salvage, and melted for reuse by the German military.

 
Antarctic Exploration

800px-Mt_Murphy,_Antarctica.jpgAntarctica has been a land of mystery for thousands of years, as early geographical theories relied on a large southern continent to “balance” the land mass of the known world. “Antarctic” was coined in the second century AD, though it was not until the Cape of Good Hope was rounded in the 15th century that it was revealed to be a continent unattached to any of the other known land masses. Explorer Captain Cook and his crew were the first modern Europeans to cross the Antarctic Circle, though they did not see the mainland.

 

In the 1800s, Russian and British crews made claims to be the first to catch sight of the ice surrounding the continent, but it is unclear who actually gets credit. It is thought that American seal hunter John Davis was probably the first to actually walk on the ice. During the early twentieth century, various expeditions attempted to reach the South Pole, only to end in disaster and loss of life. On December 14, 1911, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was the first to reach the Pole, after an arduous race with Robert Scott of England. Scott reached the Pole 33 days after Amundsen, and all five members of his party died on the return journey.

 

48759-01__93433.1434408467.1200.1200Sir Douglas Mawson led the Australasian Antarctic Expedition between 1911-1914, focusing on the coastline between Mount Gauss and Cape Adare. The mission concentrated on mapping and surveying the land, and included discoveries such as Ninnis and Mertz glaciers, Queen Mary Land, and Commonwealth Bay. The Australian Antarctic Territory issued its first stamp in 1957.

 
The Journey to Space

600px-NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-EarthriseThe greatest journey humanity has ever undertaken is the journey off our homeworld and into space. The 1960’s were characterized by an intense focus on human spaceflight, especially the race to land a human being on the moon. Russia and the United States both had scientific and political reasons for attempting this feat, but after a slow start, the United States quickly pulled ahead. On December 21, 1968, the Apollo 8 mission launched: it would be the first time human beings had left the orbit of the earth. Astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell (better known for his time on the Apollo 13 mission), and William Anders were the first human beings to see the entire planet from space, to see the far side of the moon with their own eyes, and the first to witness an earthrise over the lunar surface. The photo of this event is one of the most famous and evocative photos in history.

 

Due to complications with the Lunar Module, the mission was refocused to go without the module, and to leave a few months earlier than originally scheduled. This placed a great deal of pressure on the astronauts as their training was suddenly intensified. The Apollo 8 mission was the first manned launch of the legendary Saturn V rocket as it blasted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Taking three days to reach the moon, the crew and craft orbited ten times; the crew took this opportunity to share a Christmas Eve broadcast, which was the most watched television broadcast of the time. Upon returning to Earth via splashdown in the Pacific on December 27, 1968, the three astronauts were named Time’s “Men of the Year.” The Apollo 8 mission was crucial to the success of the later moon landing missions.

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The moon race was of interest to the entire human race, not just the countries directly involved. This contemporary gold foil stamp from Dahomey (now the Republic of Benin) shows the Apollo 8 command module, with a cratered lunar surface behind it.

 

Whether we are exploring the furthest reaches of our own planet, or trying to reach the stars, humanity loves to push ourselves further, and to document our journeys in whatever way we can. Whether it’s stamps, coins, fine art, or just graffiti, we know how to say “we were here!” with style.

 

Each of these stamps is available from our store. Please click the links to see more information or purchase!