Our ORBIT Editor Jeff Dugdale tells the stories of the only 12 men who have ever walked on the moon.
This article first appeared in Stamp Magazine (September 2001 issue) and is reprinted here with permission from Jeff.
Between July 1969 and December 1972 just 12 Americans walked on the Moon — a stunning achievement brought about by the bravery of a group of astronauts and the genius of a team of rocket scientists led by Wernher von Braun, who had formerly built V2 rockets for Hitler. Today, probably only pub trivia quiz experts and astrophilatelists know the names of all 12, and the Moon is a largely forgotten target. Putting men on Mars is considered a more important objective for today’s space programmes.
At the time of the first Moonwalk, by Armstrong and Aldrin of Apollo XI on July 21, 1969, their achievement was considered one of the greatest events in the history of the world and was celebrated with a plethora of stamps. Within three years, NASA’s planned sequence of at least 10 Moon Landing had been curtailed to six, and one country (Mauritania, SG 417) celebrated Apollo 17 by just issuing an overprint on an ostrich stamp! Sic transit gloria lunae!
Apollo XI – Armstrong and Aldrin
The most famous Moonwalking stamp is SG A1367 (left) of the US (Scott C76 to US philatelists). Designed by Paul Calle, it was released on September 9, 1969, and depicts the moment when Neil Armstrong stepped off The Eagle — his spider-like landing craft — onto the Moon, just a few seconds before he fluffed his lines. Armstrong’s secret intended words were ‘That’s a small Step for a man, one giant leap for mankind’.
But what he did say, ‘That’s a small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’, made no differential sense at all. The moment overwhelmed him and he made a small error! The famous US stamp which first marks this occasion has been quoted on other Moon landing stamps from around the world at least a dozen times. Because the event was unique, stamp designers had plenty of scope to be innovative in their compositions to mark the first Moon landing, but two particular symbolic images dominate the Apollo XI pages of space stamp collectors — the first footprint, and the US flag.
When US Postal Services decided on an image to mark the Moon landings on its ‘Celebrate the Century: 1960s’ they didn’t chose an image of Neil Armstrong (there were no still photos of him on the surface of the Moon — as Commander of the mission he had the camera) or The Eagle, but of the footprint and many variations on this topic exist.
By international agreement, no country could claim the Moon as its property, but it was the US that had accomplished the feat and so had won the greatest prize of the ‘Space Race’. Only after ‘Glasnost’ did the Soviets reveal an active, but much troubled, Moon landing programme, which was abandoned once Apollo XI was successful. So it was ‘Old Glory’, not the flag of the U.N., that was raised on the Moon’s surface. Image after image of the Stars and Stripes appears on Apollo XI stamps or later anniversaries.
Other stamps show a concession to the universality of the occasion — the grandiose sentiment of the Apollo Mission statement, ‘We came in peace for all Mankind’ — but again the signatures on the plaque left behind are all US, making a very strong political point.
A significant proportion of stamps for this mission and others in the Apollo programme were produced in the 1970s by tiny Trucial States in the Persian Gulf, which were of very dubious philatelic value and rarely found postally used. Most stamps from states such as Ras Al Khaima, Ajman, Manama, Umm Al Qiwain and Fujeira in any space collection are likely to be CTOd as they were produced for the stamp market, much as space stamps for states in the former Soviet Union are today, such as Tadjikistan, Kirghizistan, Turkmenistan, Kalmoukia and Abkhasia.
The Trucial States issues aren’t recognised in Gibbons catalogues, but are in specialist space catalogues like the Belgian WEEBAU and the French Lollini series of space stamp reference works. They are very colourful additions to collections. Stamps for Apollo XI number hundreds, but for the later missions there is a remarkable falling away.