Russian Space Mail
The main reason for writing is to inform you I have been presented with a Russian cosmic cover and I enclose some notes covering it…. The cover was created by the astronaut for his own use and not for sale to dealers. This is the main reason this item has not been seen as yet….. I hope you find it interesting.
While American Space Mail has been well documented, Russian activity in this field has remained rather a mystery.
Up to 1983, all mail taken into space by U.S. astronauts was un—official, and is identified by the inscriptions added by the astronauts, as no official space postmarks or cachets were issued. Unlike Russia, the United States had no permanent space station, which means any mail taken up by the space teams remains in the capsule during flight.
The first official U.S. Space Mail was flown aboard Challenger, the U.S. Space Shuttle. Some 260,000 covers were flown, in two containers. The mail was postmarked before the flight, and on return to earth. I understand that 1,000 covers were flown in the shuttle cabin, and signed by two of the astronauts, and 10 covers were signed by the full team. All these were for special presentations to V.I.P.’s etc. It was intended to service 500,000 covers but the containers would not hold all the covers, as all mail not flown was destroyed. Covers with numbers over 260,000 are known. A note explaining this was enclosed in the covers.
It would seem that the Russians have again gotten another space first. This being the First Official space mail. It has been hinted for some time that mail has been taken up by Russian (and other) astronauts. This originating from postage stamps issued showing space mail. Hungary issued a stamp for the 1978 Praga Philatelic Exhibition. It depicts Vladimir Remek in the act of cancelling mail aboard the Salyut space station. (This was during the USSR-Czech Intercosmos space flight).
Czechoslovakia commemorated this First Anniversary in 1979 by a set, the 2k value showing the Salyut 6 crew, and the Soyuz visiting team. They are shown behind a table on which mail and handstamps can be seen. The flight cachet is also illustrated on the stamp. The Russian 1979 Cosmonauts Day stamp has a clear illustration of a cover with the Salyut 6 postmark, from this and other information I have obtained Salyut 6 space station was issued with a postmark at the start of the Intercosmos programme, (the first official space postmark) establishing the first Post Office in space.
It is also clear that each Intercosmos flight had its own flight cachet. I also understand that mail up to now consists of that taken up by the visiting astronauts to the Salyut 6 Space station, and mail sent home by the Salyut crews who spend months in space.
During my years of collecting “Space Exploration”, I have been in contact with most of the world’s astronauts and space pioneers, having started in 1957. Over these years I have acquired some unique and interesting items, but the most exciting item was a cover taken on a space mission by Lt. Col Sigmund Jahn of the D.D.R. of Germany, as illustrated.
The cover was first posted as a Cosmonautics Day F.D.C. on 12-4-1978, with the special stamp showing Salyut 6. On 26-8-78 it was taken up to the Salyut 6 Space Station in Soyuz 31 by Lt. Col. Sigmund Jahn and the famous Russian cosmonaut Valeriy Bykovskiy. Aboard Salyut 6 it received the spaceship postmark of 27-8-78 and the Mission cachet of the same date. It was then that it was signed by the Salyut crew, V.V. Kovalenok and A.S. Ivanchenkov and S. Jahn the visiting DDR cosmonaut. It was then returned to earth in Soyuz 29 (31 being left for later use by the Salyut team). This team up to this time had been in space for 71 days, they remained for a total of 140 days. The Cover was postmarked on landing 3-9-78.
Note: The cover is also signed by Cosmonaut Juri Glaskov, who was not on the flight. He signed the cover after the flight. Juri Glaskov was one of the cosmonauts on the Soyuz 24, Salyut 5 Space Project of 1977.
V. Bykovskiy’s signature is not on the cover, The number of covers taken on the flight is not yet recorded, but it is restricted to what the cosmonaut took for his personal requirements, i.e. as souvenirs for him and his friends.
By A.W. Swanston