Having taken over the internet in 2015, NASA's next communication frontier is apparently snail mail.
In January, the US space agency announced that the Pluto flyby — arguably one of the most important scientific achievements in 2015 — would be honored with two stamps this year. The first depicts the New Horizons spacecraft, whereas the second showcases an enhanced color image of Pluto taken during the flyby. The United States Postal Service will start issuing the stamps today, after unveiling them in a special ceremony at the World Stamp Show in New York City.
This isn't the first time that Pluto has been featured on a US stamp, but it is the first time that the dwarf planet can be seen so clearly on postage. In 1991, the US Postal Service issued a stamp that read: "Pluto: Not Yet Explored," a reminder that we still hadn't visited the tiny world. "Since the early 1990s the old, ‘Pluto Not Explored’ stamp served as a rallying cry for many who wanted to mount this historic mission of space exploration," said New Horizons team leader Alan Stern. When NASA finally launched the New Horizons spacecraft in 2006, it placed one of those stamps inside the vessel.
Now, the US Postal Service is celebrating NASA's achievement by showcasing Pluto's headshot in all its glory. And as a nod to the old stamps that helped spawn New Horizons, the stamps bear the title: "Pluto — Explored!" But unlike their predecessors, these stamps probably won't be traveling over 4.67 billion miles to reach their final destination.
Among the other space stamps for 2016 are images of the planets and Earth's moon. There are even four Star Trek stamps, which commemorate the 50th anniversary of the show's premiere. Hopefully the US Postal Service will live long enough and prosper so we can actually use these stamps to send mail.
Update May 31st, 11:33AM ET: This article has been updated to note the stamps are being issued today.
- This souvenir stamp sheet depicts an artists’ rendering of the New Horizons spacecraft and an enhanced color image of Pluto taken during the flyby. (USPS/Antonio Alcalá © 2016 USPS)
- These stamps show some of the images of planets obtained during the last half-century of space exploration. Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune each have their own stamp. Some of the stamps show what someone might observe by looking at the planets from space, whereas others were designed using imaging data to showcase certain features. (USPS/Antonio Alcalá © 2016 USPS)
- This image was taken as the full moon rises. (USPS/Greg Breeding under the art direction of William Gicker © 2016 USP)
- To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, the US postal service issued a series of forever stamps. These illustrations show the Starship Enterprise, the silhouette of a crewman in a transporter, the silhouette of the Enterprise, and the Enterprise inside the outline of the Vulcan statue, respectively. (USPS/Heads of State under the art direction of Antonio Alcalá © 2016 USPS)