When Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon, it meant a ‘giant leap for mankind’ and a small sketch on a historic stamp. A pint-sized stamp can tell a story that changed the way we see the universe, while a collection can trace the history of space research, is what the philately exhibition underway in the city proves.

The expo is a trove of information for philatelists, astronomers and anyone intrigued by the mysteries of the unknown.

Coinciding with the epochal landing of man on the moon, the expo simultaneously aims to rekindle interest in philately, space science and entice new collectors, says P.Soundarrajan, president, Trichy Philatelists Association. The expo comprises collections by homemaker Indumathy whose special ‘silk cachet’ celebrates sole and joint space ventures by U.S.A and Soviet Union , and student Bhagyashree, whose mint stamps and special covers trace space research from ancient days.

Stamped on silk

The special feature of the expo-the ‘silk cachet’-presents rare collectibles, including official ‘first day of issue’ covers with post marks cancelled in the Kennedy Space Centre. These are printed on silk and are released by the U.S, Canada or UNPA, an authorised body to issue postage special stamps, says Mr.Soundarrajan.

It may be rocket science, but the collection depicting space shuttles, rockets, launch vehicles, cosmonauts, space walks and space stations decodes the developments.

The first exhibit commemorates the landing on the moon on May 21, 1981, followed by Apollo-Soyuz missile. Stamps tell the story of Apollo lift off on July 15,1975, second flight of space shuttle Columbia on November 12, 1981 that returned in two days after 36 orbits and third flight of the shuttle- a special record, being the first lift-off under the shuttle development programme on scheduled time.

Even non-philatelists may find the stories behind Apollo commander Tom Stafford shaking hands with Soyuz commander Alekesi Lenov 140 miles above the earth, an anecdote worth reading.

It is said they exchanged flags in space to mark the joint initiative. A stamp depicts American President Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy congratulating two astronauts who safely landed Columbia STS- IV on July 4, 1982 that became ‘a fourth of July to remember’.

Astronomer’s corner

The second collection boasts of space firsts, including the first space walk, satellite (Sputnik), animal (Laika), first man (Yuri Gagarin) and woman (Valentina Tereshkova).

Amateur astronomers will turn starry-eyed with stamps marking astronomical events such as the Halley’s Comet and phases of evolution of the earth. Astronomers like Galileo, Copernicus and writer Jules Verne find their own space. The astrologically inclined will find the Sri Lankan collection of postage stamps depicting all signs of the zodiac interesting.

A separate section dedicated to India in space has first day covers and stamps portraying father of the nation’s space programme-Vikram Sarabhai, the first Indian satellite ‘Aryabhatta’, and INSAT satellites. The philately exhibition is on at the philately bureau at the head post office till mid August between 10 am and 6 pm..