Having been successfully deployed into a stable orbit between Earth and the sun, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is now ready to enter a route closer to home: the United States' mail system.
The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) on Tuesday (May 3) announced it will be issuing a postage stamp in honor of the new observatory (opens in new tab) later this year.
"Celebrate NASA's remarkable James Webb Space Telescope, the largest and most complex telescope ever deployed in space — capable of peering directly into the early cosmos and studying every phase of cosmic history," the USPS release (opens in new tab) read. "Launched on Dec. 25, 2021 (opens in new tab), Webb now orbits the Sun about a million miles away from Earth."
Named after the Apollo-era NASA administrator who championed space science, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be used to image the earliest of galaxies in infrared light and to discern the atmospheric properties of exoplanets. It is intended as the scientific successor for the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes.
The new JWST "Forever" denomination stamps will each feature a rendering of the fully deployed observatory (opens in new tab), with its hexagonal golden mirrors and tennis-court-size sunshield, set against a field of stars and interstellar gas. USPS art director Derry Noyes used an existing piece of art by photo-illustrator James Vaughan (opens in new tab) to design the commemorative.
"What I tried to do from the beginning was to play up [the telescope's] giant mirror, which is just such a phenomenal piece of equipment," Vaughan told collectSPACE.com in a brief interview on Tuesday. "It just is crazy how much it reflects everything. It almost literally looks into a whole new dimension."
Vaughan originally created the illustration for the February 2016 cover of Science magazine. This is the first time that his art has appeared on a postage stamp.
"I'm really happy that they chose something that is going be very pretty, a very pretty, colorful and attractive image," he said. "Today was the first time I have seen the design complete, and it looks really good. I'm happy."
The JWST postage stamps will be sold in sheets of 20 with a selvage (or border) photograph of a bright star that was taken by the James Webb Space Telescope early in its mission to confirm that its 18 mirror segments were precisely aligned.
"More than 20 years ago, the Webb team set out to build the most powerful telescope that anyone has ever put in space and came up with an audacious optical design to meet demanding science goals," Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for science, said in a statement in March when the alignment was confirmed. "Today we can say that design is going to deliver."
Since then, the telescope has been confirmed to be capable of capturing crisp, well-focused images using each of its four on board science instruments. Scientific observations are expected to begin this summer.
"Signed, sealed, delivered, we're yours," NASA posted (opens in new tab) to its social media channels on Tuesday. "The USPS plans to issue James Webb Space Telescope stamps later this year. (And we plan to issue Webb pictures of the cosmos.) Stay tuned for all the special deliveries."
Additional details, including the release date and first-day-of-issue location, are to be announced later.