How many planets are there in the solar system? is as hot a question as Does global warming exist?Remember, there are some who think the sun revolves around us—which makes it a planet and the Earth a star. But the United States Postal Service knows what we should all know. In addition to Earth, there are seven other planets. … Eight in total? What happened to the ninth, the one named after a dog? Well, a few years ago, scientists agreed that Pluto was neither a planet nor dog, but a mere heavenly body. Its planet-ude was taken away, and while some of us know-nothing star gazers protested losing our furthermost planet to a technicality, the USPS decided to make it official.
Thanks to Antonio Alcalá, an art director for the U.S. Postal Service’s stamp development program, the USPS has created a heavenly series of stunning stamps highlighting NASA’s Planetary Science program, including a do-over of a famous Pluto stamp commemorating NASA New Horizons’ historic 2015 flyby.
Some of you stamp collectors might say “old news.” The series was indeed issued in May. But who goes to Post Offices any more? My local Duane Reade carries only American Flag Forever stamps. I was in my upstate local P.O. to pay rent on my box, and after a relentless ribbing with the local postmaster about not having much to do these days, he showed me the recent USPS planetary issues.
He had me sold on that first sheet of planets. Beautiful! Then he proudly announced, as though selling me rust protection for my car: “There’s more! Those USPS guys are great marketers. Since Pluto is no longer a planet, they made a special plate block for it. You can’t get one without the other, right, big guy?” I took two sets. “You really should buy more,” he insisted. “They’re flying out the door.” Now, there’s a civil servant who could save the USPS single-handed.
But back to the stamps. In 2006, NASA placed a 29-cent 1991 “Pluto: Not Yet Explored” stamp in the New Horizons spacecraft. In 2015 the spacecraft carried the stamp on its history-making mission to Pluto and beyond. With this new series, the Postal Service recognizes the first reconnaissance of Pluto. The souvenir sheet of four stamps contains two new stamps appearing twice. The first stamp shows an artists’ rendering of the New Horizons spacecraft, and the second shows the spacecraft’s enhanced color image of Pluto taken near its closest approach. That was Antonio Alcalá’s doing to be sure.
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