The United Nations Postal Administration recently issued six new stamps and three souvenir sheets in celebration of human achievements on Mars.
Earth’s planetary neighbour has got quite a hold on us. Mars has captured the attention of scientists and space enthusiasts for decades, with multiple probes and rovers sent to the Red Planet in the attempt to uncover its mysterious and potentially habitable past.
The UNPA’s latest collection commemorates three recent missions to Mars: the United Arab Emirates’ Hope Probe, which entered Mars’ orbit on February 9, 2021; NASA’s Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars on February 18, 2021; and Tianwen-1, which reached Mars on May 14, 2021.
All stamps and souvenir sheets in the new set are obtainable through the UN website or from shops at UN Headquarters in New York, Geneva, and Vienna.
The Proctor Crater on Mars is known for dunes made up of basaltic sand, which form intricate patterns of ripples across the surface. As NASA explains:
The larger, darker bedforms are dunes composed of sand, most likely of fine size. Ripples tend to move slower than dunes. Because of this, over time, ripples get covered with dust, possibly explaining the bright tone visible here. The dunes are dark probably because they are composed of basaltic sand (derived from dark, volcanic rock) that is blown by the wind enough that dust does not sufficiently accumulate to change their colour.
The image for this striking stamp was captured by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
A rover selfie
If there’s one thing Martian rovers are known for, it’s their famous selfies. While it may seem like a simple task, taking a selfie on Mars is actually quite complicated. The Perseverance rover uses the WATSON camera located at the end of its robotic arm, but this camera was originally designed to take close-up images of Martian rocks, requiring it to stay zoomed in. To fit the entire car-sized robot in the frame, mission engineers captured several images and then stitched them together to create the final product.
Mars in all its glory
The UAE’s Hope Probe captures images of Mars in three visible and two ultraviolet wavelengths. A colour composite image can then be created using blue, green, and red filters. The result can be spectacular, like this gorgeous view of the Red Planet and its bright northern polar regions.
The Planet Mars stamp collection was issued in three denominations: Swiss francs (CHF 1.10 to 2) for the UAE’s Hope Probe stamps, U.S. dollars (58 cents ($0.81) to $US1.30 ($2)) for NASA’s Perseverance stamps, and Euros (€0,85 to €1,80) for China’s Tianwen-1 stamps.
Celebrating the ground technicians
This stamp offers a nice shout-out to the technicians who make these sorts of missions possible. The Hope Probe is designed to orbit Mars and study its atmosphere. Scientists believe that Mars had a thick atmosphere when it first formed billions of years ago, but most of it was lost over time through the process of atmospheric escape — a process we’re still trying to understand.
The images for the stamps were provided by the mission teams, while the stamps were designed by Sergio Baradat from the UNPA’s graphics design team.
Stick the landing
China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft entered orbit around Mars on February 10, 2021. The spacecraft was carrying a rover on board named Zhurong, which successfully landed on Mars on May 14, 2021, making China the second country to land and operate a rover on Mars. The image printed on this Martian stamp features Zhurong’s landing zone.
UNPA has celebrated space exploration through stamp art before, issuing a Nebulae themed stamp collection in 2013, a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of human spaceflight in 2011, and another for the 50th anniversary of the start of the space age in 2007.
Oh, hey there Zhurong rover
One week after touching down on Mars, Zhurong used a wireless camera to capture a selfie on Mars. The rover, named after a Chinese god of fire, has been exploring Mars’ topography and has far exceeded its original 90-sol planned mission (one sol is slightly longer than one Earth day).
Ingenuity at its best
The complimentary souvenir sheets in this collection are also fun, like this sheet showing Ingenuity. Perseverance, when it landed on Mars in February 2021, wasn’t alone. The rover was packing a tiny helicopter in its belly, which became the first powered aircraft to lift off from the surface of another planet, which it did on April 19, 2021. The Ingenuity helicopter has logged 28 flights since reaching the Red Planet.
Hope for Mars
The Hope Probe marked the Arab world’s first mission to Mars and a sign that the UAE is seeking to diversify its economy by entering into the space industry. When the UAE first announced its plan to launch a Mars mission in 2014, the nation didn’t yet have its own space agency. The fledgling UAE Space Agency managed to reach Mars just seven years later — a feat accomplished by only a few nations.
The perfect sidekick
China’s six-wheeled Zhurong rover landed in Utopia Planitia, a vast terrain in the planet’s northern hemisphere, but it couldn’t have done it without its sidekick: a trusty landing platform that allowed the rover to slide down a ramp and reach the Martian surface. This souvenir sheet pays homage to the trusty Chinese lander.