Pioneer Jupiter

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Czechoslovakia

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Almost as soon as the Space Race began, its associated propaganda was put to use in ephemera of all kinds. The gallery of stamps shown here shows how space triumphs were used to shape the national image.

North Korea

While other communist countries toed the party line, they soon had their own space achievements to commemorate - as the Soviet Intercosmos programme put astronauts from countries as diverse as Vietnam, Mongolia, and Cuba into orbit.

NASA also found an eager supporter in the United States Postal Service, and stamps were issued to commemorate most US manned and unmanned space achievements. Many other nations also seized on the Space Race as a fitting subject for their stamps, and the decision over whether to depict US or Soviet missions frequently reflected the political complexion of their governments.

For all its failings, the former Soviet Union was an undoubted master of propaganda - within days of Sputnik 1's launch, the communist nation's triumph was commemorated on stamps issued not only in the USSR itself, but also across Eastern Bloc countries such as Romania and Czechoslovakia. The Soviet command economy was soon turning out other varieties of space-related ephemera, but the stamps are particularly evocative of the modernist dreams that accompanied the birth of spaceflight -representations of cosmonauts and spacecraft ranged from the self-consciously stylized and heroic to the photographic and futuristic.

Mongolia

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Nicaragua

Hungary

Poland

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MAY 1992: SPACE BUILDING

Astronauts Kathryn Thornton (foreground) and Thomas Akers rehearse assembly procedures for the projected, but never completed, Freedom Space Station in the open cargo bay of the Space Shuttle Endeavour. In the background hangs the pale blue globe of the Earth.

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WORKING IN SPACE

FACED WITH FALLING BUDGETS in the wake of Apollo, NASA turned its attention to what it hoped would be cheaper methods of exploring space. The benefits of winged spacecraft had long been recognized, but such vehicles were sidelined in favour of the ballistic approach as the Space Race took hold. Now the idea was reborn in NASA's Integrated Space Transportation System - a Space Shuttle that would make routine trips to and from orbit, and a large space station that would be serviced by the new spacecraft. But there were insufficient funds for both projects, so the station was soon abandoned to concentrate on the Shuttle, which would now take on the role of orbiting laboratory as well as launch vehicle.

In the Soviet Union, meanwhile, space stations went from strength to strength, still supported by the reliable Soyuz spacecraft family. The last Soviet station, Mir, was a great leap forward with a complex, modular design. And political changes on Earth dictated that this was where the two nations would finally come together in space.

ARMSTRONG THE PILOT

Neil Armstrong poses with the North American X-15 following a successful test flight. The hypersonic plane flew 199 flights between 1959 and 1968.

M2-F2

This lifting body first flew in 1966, dropped from beneath a B-52 bomber. It tested techniques for highspeed gliding that would eventually be used by the Space Shuttle.

TECHNOLOGY

Of the many great missed opportunities of the Space Age, the Multi-Unit Space Transport And Recovery Device (MUSTARD) is one of the most intriguing. First proposed by the British Aircraft Corporation in 1965 but abandoned a few years later, MUSTARD would have used three identical "stacked" lifting bodies, launched like a conventional rocket. The lower stages would separate and glide back to Earth at altitudes of 45-60km (28-38 miles), after pumping their remaining fuel into the orbiter stage. This would in theory allow the orbiter to reach space with full fuel tanks, potentially allowing it to continue to the Moon.

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SPIRAL

The Soviet Spiral was an orbiter to be launched from a hypersonic aircraft. It was abandoned in 1971.

TECHNOLOGY

8 June 1959

NASA's X-15 hypersonic research aircraft makes its first flight.

10 December 1963

USAF cancels its X-20 Dyna-Soar programme.

12 July 1966

The first test of NASA's M2-F2 lifting body prototype is a success.

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