posted 01-20-2003 04:24 PM
Briefly, rocket mail is "mail" that has been transported by a rocket or spacecraft, either manned or unmanned, from one place to another! Collecting rocket mail can be of great interest to novice and experienced stamp and space collectors alike, and tons of fun.
As early as 1914 American rocket pioneer Dr. Robert Goddard experimented with mail-carrying rockets and he even obtained his first patent in this field. However, the first rocket to carry stamped envelopes, or "covers" as many refer to (including myself) were franked with government postage was not launched until Feb. 2, 1931, when Austrian engineer Friedrich Schmiedl propelled a V-7 rocket carrying 102 mail items from Schoeckl Mountain to St. Radegund, Austria -- a distance of only 100 yards!
In that era the crude, small and experimental rockets were not publicly financed, and the covers they carried often bore rubber-stamp cachets and stamps that had been privately printed so that they could be sold later to pay costs. Schmiedl achieved another milestone when the world's first printed rocket stamp was issued for his R-1 flight on Sept. 9, 1931.
Rocket mail entered the space age in 1946 when modified German V-2 rockets were test fired from the White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico. This was the first time that mail reached outer space; Dr. Wernher von Braun himself autographed a few of the special V-2 carried covers.
From that time on, rocket mail has been carried and flown aboard rocket-propelled vehicles like the X-15, a Thor-Able missile shot from the Cape, a Regulus-1 sub-launched winged missile, a Minuteman/ICBM test vehicle, the Discoverer XVII satellite in which the covers were marked with the words "FIRST AIR MAIL - OUTER SPACE," both Russian and American orbital space stations, the Space Shuttle Challenger and other Orbiters, and eventually were even in orbit around the moon and on the lunar surface!