Astrophilately was born soon after the launch of the first ever earth orbiting satellite, the Soviet Union’s Sputnik on 4th October 1957, reached its peak during the Apollo mission years 1969—1972 when it was very near the top of the thematic interest lists and continues to engage and fascinate thousands of collectors all over the world.

Vostok Gagarin Hungary 1962

Mercury Project USA 1962

Gemini Programme Bulgaria 1967

Astronomy observatories Italy 1968 & France 1963

The British based Astro Space Stamp Society has over 120 subscribers, about two thirds of whom reside in the United Kingdom and Orbit its quarterly magazine is sent to overseas members as far away as New Zealand, China and Saudi Arabia and to readers in exotic places like Nepal and Mongolia, as well as to over twenty in the USA and Canada. The A.S.S.S. has an excellent website which complements Orbit:

We have some very well known members in the world of international philately such as Margaret Morris, Ian Ridpath, Andrew Swanston, Jurgen Esders, Beatrice Bachmann, Charles Bromser, and Bert van Eijck. I write from time to time on our theme in generalist stamp magazines such as STAMP and Gibbons Stamp Monthly, my most recent articles being on the 40th anniversary of Apollo XI in the August 2009 issues.

Vostok craft Mongolia 1969

Apollo XI (USA 1969)

Apollo XV USA 1971

Moon explorations Mongolia 1985, Romania 1965 & USSR 1971

In America the hobby is serviced by the A.T.A. Space Unit and their popular all colour bi-monthly magazine The Astrophile (now 50 years old) is taken by over 300 members. In Europe there are flourishing sister societies each with their own print or on line publications—in Holland (Nieuwsbrief), Germany (Weltraum Philatelie), France, and Italy (Ad Astra), whose society was launched in 2008 with around two dozen members.

So what do we do? If you were to consider branching out from aerophilately you would have a very wide choice of aspects of our hobby to select from such as Manned Space Flight, Unmanned Space Flight and Astronomy, each of which can be subdivided offering many much smaller and more manageable topics.

I’ll start with my major interest which is the first of those in that list. I was a teenager in the 1960’s and remember listening on the wireless to the Moonlandings—Apollo XI in July 1969 and all that—which so captured our imagination, but are now largely taken for granted or ignored as the date for manned return to the Moon is forever delayed. I doubt if I shall see it in my lifetime.

Soyuz 11 fatal crash USSR 1971

Indian comsat India 1972

Skylab USA 1974

So one could collect the American Apollo Program, but before that came Gemini (two pilot craft) or Mercury (single pilot). Before that you could look into the history of American planning for going to the Moon and the captured German scientists and their V2/A4 rockets. Perhaps you have heard of Wernher von Braun ?  Simultaneously the Soviets were taking away captured scientists and hardware from the Peenemünde rocket site for their own space programme, which then led to Sputnik and within a few years to Vostok, Voskhod, and the old warhorse Soyuz manned ferry, which first flew in 1971 and newer versions of which still make journeys to orbiting space stations.  (You will know the name Yuri Gagarin but have you heard of Sergei Korolev and Valentin Glushko ?)

After Apollo, came the first signs of international cooperation with the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1976, which could be a theme all on its own, such was the proliferation of stamps for it. The first American space station was called Skylab whilst the Soviets began with a series of Salyut stations, all shrouded in secrecy and some still very mysterious.  Then followed MIR which the Americans latterly visited in their space shuttle on several occasions and today the International Space Station is serviced both by shuttles and Soyuz craft two or three times a year.

Astronomy Observatory GB 1975

Soyuz guest cosmonauts Hungary 1980

Voskhod – first space walk Hungary 1982

The third country to put a man in space by themselves was China with its Shen Zhou Craft and to date three such launches will have occurred, in October ‘03, in October ‘05 and in September ‘08.

In all at the time of writing (October 2010) some 520 astronauts, cosmonauts and taikonauts have flown in space, around ten of whom have done it six or seven times each. Just over 10% of this number have been women. There have been four fatal flights in space, not counting accidents to space-farers on the launch pad, namely Soyuz 1 (in April ‘67), Soyuz 11 (in June ’71 )  the Challenger (January ‘86) and Columbia (January ‘03) shuttle tragedies, killing a total of just under 20 fliers.

Today we are on the verge of new aspects of space flight with wealthy citizens spending $10 million to fly in Soyuz for a week or to go private via Virgin Galactica or half a dozen rival companies who are, as you read, working on plans to fly civilians on ballistic flights, providing them with four minutes of weightlessness on the edge of space (100 km up) for £100,000 or so.

Any one of the above programmes could provide a starting point for you to branch out into astrophilately but the number of options provided so far is dwarfed by the possibilities in collecting unmanned missions.

Astronomers Copernicus France 1974 Kepler E.Germany 1983 Gal

Venus exploration Mongolia 1982

Halley’s comet Sri Lanka 1986

Tanzania Hubble ST

Sputnik and Tsiolkovsky Viet Nam 1986

Sergei Korolev USSR 1986

Planetary probes USA 1975 and 1991

The Russians launched their Sputnik first and followed this quickly with other Sputniks carrying dogs, whilst shortly after the Americans began ballistic and then orbiting craft carrying monkeys and other biota. So Animals in Space could be another theme.

Soon both countries began sending craft to planets in our solar system with Mars being by far the most attractive (and frustrating) to both countries. Today our Moon, every single planet, apart from Pluto (which ironically since 2007 is no longer classed as a planet) has had at least one probe sent to it and the Pluto/Charon binary system will be closely examined by an American craft when it arrives in a year or so. A collection for each of the planets, or indeed our Sun, would be a fascinating one to research and put together. Then of course man has sent probes well beyond the solar system—Pioneer and Voyager, still faintly active in the depths of space after 40 Years —and to several comets which have passed through our solar system, notably Halley’s comet in 1986 which was a major collecting theme.  Many nations have now launched craft such as communications satellites (either by themselves or with American, Soviet, Chinese or French help) including ones with considerable poverty on their territory e.g. Mexico, Pakistan and India. One could collect all the space issues of such a single country.

Hubble Space Telescope launch Bulgaria 1991

Space Shuttle Bulgaria 1990

Apollo Soyuz Test Project Russia 2000

Future exploration Australia 2000

Shen Zhou China 2000

MIR and ISS (space stations) Russia 2000

Dog in Space Laika Hungary 2007

Astronomy is of course a vast theme with literally infinite possibilities to collect: star systems, constellations, famous observatories, earth bound and orbiting (like the Hubble Space Telescope), famous astronomers and cosmologists from cultures long and recently past. UFO’s and Aliens could also be a sub theme for you.

As with any theme one can collect stamps, souvenir sheets, covers, maxim cards, special cancels and for the risk takers—autographs.  Some shuttle covers signed by all crew members now change hands for hundreds of dollars, but how can you tell if the signatures are authentic ? (Below shuttle launch cover signed by astronauts Hennen and Gregory).

Orbit cover 1


Orbit cover 2

If you would like to start an aspect of this theme we have members all over the world who would be delighted to get you started you. Please just ask !

Jeff Dugdale’s email address –