We interrupt the Animal Planet episodes to bring you breaking news: The U.S. Postal Service announced that two new stamps will commemorate both Project Mercury and the current mission to planet Mercury.
March 2011 is when NASA scheduled MESSENGER to reach Mercury. They launched the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry & Ranging craft in 2004. It is the first probe to visit Mercury since Mariner 10 in 1975, and the first intended to achieve actual orbit, in order to study the magnetic field, poles, chemical composition, geology, and exosphere of the planet closest to the Sun.
May 2011 will be the 50th anniversary of Alan B. Shepard, Jr.'s Freedom 7 mission aboard the Mercury-Redstone 3, whereby he became the second person, and the first American, to travel into space.
Titled First Spacecraft to Orbit Mercury and Alan Shepard: First American in Space, the stamps will be designed by former Air & Space magazine art director Phil Jordan and sci-fi artist Donato Giancola, then sold as a "se-tenant" (i.e. - an attached pair). These and 67 other stamps are planned for 2011.
In addition to flying the 1961 sub-orbital mission, Alan Shepard was also the fifth man to walk on the Moon, and will be the first American astronaut to be honored on a U.S. stamp. (Selection criteria requires an individual be deceased 5 years, and events of historical significance are limited to milestones in multiples of 50 years. Shepard died of leukemia in July of 1998, and although not the first to pass away, his is the first manned mission to reach the half-century mark. )
My votes :)
Previous stamps have depicted the Mercury capsule (designed and printed in complete secrecy, just in case the program failed!), the first American spacewalk, first lunar landing, and a shuttle – but without actually naming any astronauts.
The National Postal Museum's "Stamps Take Flight" exhibit highlights the history of flight-related stamps, ranging from the first airmail delivery 150 years ago to lunar postmarks – such as the Apollo 15 Mail Pouch, postmarked on the Moon's surface with both ink (deliberately) and regolith (a little less deliberately)!