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United Nations celebrates Mars missions on new postage stamps

The UN Postal Administration's "Planet Mars" postage stamps celebrate human achievement at the Red Planet.
The United Nations Postal Administration's "Planet Mars" postage stamps celebrate human achievement at the Red Planet. (Image credit: United Nations Postal Administration/collectSPACE.com)

With more countries operating spacecraft on and around Mars than ever before, the United Nations is celebrating human achievement at the Red Planet with its latest release of postage stamps.

The United Nations Postal Administration (UNPA) has issued six commemorative stamps and three souvenir sheets (opens in new tab) themed to the Mars missions launched by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), United States and China.

"Mars has been a source of curiosity for centuries. In a historic year for exploration, three missions reached their destinations on, and around, the 'Red Planet' in 2021. This stamp series marks those pioneering achievements," UNPA officials wrote in a press release (opens in new tab) announcing the new "Planet Mars" stamps.

Mars missions: A brief history

Three souvenir sheets complement the six postage stamps in the United Nations Postal Administration "Planet Mars" set.

Three souvenir sheets complement the six postage stamps in the UN Postal Administration "Planet Mars" set. (Image credit: United Nations Postal Administration/collectSPACE.com)

Two of the new UNPA stamps and one of the souvenir sheets (a sheet with a single stamp surrounded by a margin that is printed with an image complementing or completing the design of the stamp) celebrate the Emirates Mars Mission, the UAE's first interplanetary mission, which arrived in Mars' orbit (opens in new tab) on Feb. 9, 2021. The stamps depict the mission's "Hope" ("Al-Amal" in Arabic) probe and a photo of Mars that was returned by the spacecraft.

Two other stamps and a souvenir sheet recognize the accomplishments of two NASA missions: Mars 2020, which landed at Gale Crater (opens in new tab) on Feb. 18, 2021, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been in orbit since 2006. The stamps feature images of the Perseverance rover and the dunes in Proctor crater, with the souvenir sheet dedicated to the history-making Ingenuity Mars Helicopter (opens in new tab).

The remaining two stamps and souvenir sheet focus on China's Tianwen 1 mission, which entered orbit on Feb. 10, 2021 and touched down three months later on May 14. Depicted are the Zhurong rover, its landing platform (opens in new tab) and the pre-selected area where both landed on the Martian surface.

Consistent with other UNPA releases, the Planet Mars commemoratives were issued in three denominations: Swiss francs for the UAE-themed stamps, U.S. dollars for the NASA releases and European Euros for the Chinese subjects.

Designed by UNPA art director Sergio Barada, the stamp images were supplied by the Emirate Mars Mission team, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) and NASA, with support from the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA).

The United Nations Postal Administration (UNPA) "Planet Mars" postage stamps are also available on individual sheets of 10 stamps each.

The UN Postal Administration "Planet Mars" postage stamps are also available on individual sheets of 10 stamps each. (Image credit: United Nations Postal Administration/collectSPACE.com)

The Planet Mars commemoratives were first released on April 24. They can be ordered from the UNPA website (opens in new tab) and purchased from the shops at UN Headquarters in New York, Geneva and Vienna where the stamps can be used for sending mail. Collectible envelopes postmarked for the first day of issue (also known as "first day covers") are also on sale.

UNPA stamp subjects reflect the work of the world organization and serve as a reminder of the UN's commitment to its goals. Previous UNPA space exploration issues include a 2018 set commemorating the 50th anniversary (opens in new tab) of the first UN conference on the exploration and peaceful uses of outer space; a 2013 pair of nebula-theme stamps for World Space Week; a 2011 release for the 50th anniversary of human spaceflight; and a 2007 collection of eight stamps (opens in new tab) marking 50 years since the start of the Space Age.

"As humankind races toward Mars, it is important that countries work together to promote international cooperation and peaceful use and exploration of space, and in the utilization of space science and technology for sustainable economic and social development. Since 1958, the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) works to promote these objectives," UNPA officials stated.

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Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.