Stamps show UK is first class in space

The UK’s postal service, Royal Mail, will issue a set of new stamps next week that highlight the nation’s involvement in space missions. With a strong astronomy and planetary science theme, they are designed to mark the 50th anniversary of Britain’s first satellite, Ariel 1.

The 1st Class stamp marking observations of the Sun by SOHO
The 1st Class stamp marking observations of the Sun by SOHO. Credit: Royal Mail

The tribute comes a little late – Ariel 1 was launched on 26 April, 1962, and the stamps will be available on 16 October – but the stamps include classic images of the Sun, Venus, Mars, Saturn, its largest moon Titan and the asteroid Lutetia.

All were taken from missions conducted by the European Space Agency (ESA) with UK involvement. Royal Mail Stamps spokesperson Andrew Hammond said: “Britain has played an important role in space exploration over the last half a century and our Space Science issue is a fitting tribute.

“We’re delighted to be bringing stunning imagery of our solar system right onto the nation’s doorsteps through this latest stamp issue.”

In February 2007, Royal Mail issued stamps to mark 50 years of the BBC’s record-breaking astronomy programme The Sky At Night, presented throughout by Sir Patrick Moore.

The launch of Ariel 1 made Britain the third country to become a space nation, after the USSR and USA, though the satellite was actually lifted into orbit by an American Thor-Delta rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The satellite re-entered the atmosphere in April 1976. Here are the remaining stamps.

Space stamps: Venus stamp

Space stamps: Mars stamp

Space stamps: Lutetia stamp

Space stamps: Saturn stamp

Space stamps: Titan stamp

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By Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland has been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. He writes regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy, plus he has authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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