Celebrating NASA & Apollo 11 Through Stamps

Project Mercury, 1958-1963

4-cent Project Mercury single
The 4-cent Project Mercury stamp was issued February 20, 1962.
Capsule, Mercury, MA-6 Friendship 7
This is the Friendship 7 Capsule that carried astronaut John Glenn into orbit on February 20, 1962, and safely back to Earth 4 hours and 55 minutes later.
Courtesy National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution

The Mercury Program flights tested newly invented NASA equipment and technology. The early successes of Mercury paved the way for man’s extended travel in outer space. On February 20, 1962 John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth in the Mercury capsule Friendship 7. Glenn orbited Earth three times in a trip that lasted close to five hours.

The Post Office Department issued a stamp honoring this event with a historic event of its own: the Project Mercury Issue became the first US postage stamp to be issued on the same day as the event it commemorated.

The Post Office Department, NASA, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing agreed to the special release provided it occur under “strict security precautions.” This called for unusual circumstances for the stamps’ creation. Operations that normally occurred via letters now took place face to face. Charles R. Chickering, a Bureau of Engraving and Printing designer, took an annual leave and designed the stamp from home. The stamp engraver did not go to work during normal hours, but instead worked in the office at night to finish the engraving for the postage stamp. The completed stamps were transferred underground and sent to 301 postal inspectors in sealed boxes. Only after NASA recovered John Glenn and declared his mission a success were the inspectors told by telephone to turn over the boxes to the postmasters. Hence, for the first time in history, a stamp was released on the same day as the event it was commemorating.