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Soviet Space


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This project shows stamps that reflect events in the Soviet Space race over the peiod 1957 to 1981, more or less 25 years. While it is a story on stamps, it is important to note that, as with all my 'stories' on stamps, it grew out of the ordering of the stamps in a sequence. I think it is important that the weight of the project lie firmly in the realm of the stamps. For this reason, story is given in outline only. There is very little in the way of technical detail. Where it does occur I have relied on accounts given in well-known sources like MacMillan's Encyclopaedia and Wikipedia.
The great majority of the stamps are from the U.S.S.R and are instantly recognizable by the wording: ПОЧТА CCCP. By and large the Soviet stamps are in the range 4 to 32 kopecks, the case with the 'Intercosmos' issues of the period 1978 to 1981 being typical, with regular values through most of the 11 countries of 4k, 15k and 32k.
Stamps from outside the U.S.S.R are almost all from the so-called 'Iron Curtain' countries of the period or clearly aligned countries such as Cuba and Vietnam.
Of the very small number of items from outwith these areas, they are included either for the clarity of the images or, in the case of the sheet from Micronesia, which I have broken down into 20 frames (stamps) and cast in the form of a slide show, the overview that it provides.
Where more than one stamp is given for a particular spacecraft or mission, the stamps are arranged in chronological order of issue. In all cases, if no other country is specified, the issue comes from U.S.S.R. So we will have: 'Type 1028, 1964: Tsiolkovsky' (from U.S.S.R), but 'Mongolia , Type 66 - 'Space Flights' (non-U.S.S.R).
Early Pioneers
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Konstantin Ksiolkovsky delved into theories of heavier-than-air flying machines, but his ideas were little known outside Imperial Russia and research in the field lagged until other scientists independently made the same calculations a decade later. Tsiolkovsky calculated the hoizontal speed required for a minimal orbit around the Earth to be 8,000 m/s (miles per second) and that this could be achieved by means of multi-stage rocket fuelling by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. Friedrich Zander became active in promoting and further developing Tsiolkovsky's work. Nikolai Ivanovich Kibalchich was a Russian revolutionary. He produced the world's first design of a manned rocket-propelled craft. Kibalchich's proposal lay buried in government archives for political reasons until August 1917 when it was discovered by Bolshevik researchers.
Type 1028, 1964: Tsiolkovsky (top), then Zander and Kibalchich.
Sputnik (1957)
'Sputnik', the first artificial Earth satellite, was launched by the Soviet Union launched it into an elliptical low Earth orbit on 4 October 1957. It was visible all around the Earth and its radio pulses were detectable. The surprise success precipitated the American Sputnik crisis and triggered the Space Race, a part of the larger Cold War. The launch ushered in new political, military, technological, and scientific developments. Sputnik itself provided scientists with valuable information. The density of the upper atmosphere could be deduced from its drag on the orbit, and the propagation of its radio signals gave information about the ionosphere. Sputnik 1 was launched during the International Geophysical Year from the 5th Tyuratam range, in Kazakh SSR (now at the Baikonur Cosmodrome).
Type 960 - Cosmonautics Day: Sputniks & Globe
Type 1027 - 'The Way of the Stars', 1964: Various Sputniks
Animals in Space (1957)
The next logical step was to have the space craft occupied by a human. As is often the case, it fell to the animal world to provide the 'guinea pigs'. The first dog to be sent into space was Laika, a stray from the streets of Moscow. She was followed by Belka and Strelka and later by Zvedochka and Chernushka. It is not easy to establish how successful these experiments were, though we do know from a later disclosure that Laika perished.
Mongolia , Type 66 - 'Space Flights': Dog 'Laika' & Rocket
Type 793, 1960: Belka & Strelka
Type 840, 1961 - Zvedochka, T
Type 840, 1961 - 4th & 5th Sputnik Flights: Chernushka
The first man-made object to go beyond Earth's orbit came with the Lunik series , in 1959.
Type 749 , 1959: Launching of Lunik 3
Type 771, 1960 - Lunik Flight: Lunik (40k), Map of Moon (60k)
The Vostok Missions
The Vostok (BOCTOK, translated as 'East') was the first spacecraft to carry human personnel. This was accomplished was accomplished on April 12, 1961, by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
The Vostok programme consisted of six manned spaceflights between 1961 and 1963. The basic Vostok design has remained in use for some forty years, gradually adapted for a range of other unmanned satellites. The descent module design was reused, in heavily modified form, by the Voskhod program.
Vostok 1
The famous Vostok flight of Yuri Gagarin, as noted above took place on 12ht April, 1961. Thereafter, in the U.S.S.R and a number of other countries, that day came to be known as 'Cosmonaut's Day' and was marked by stamp commemoratives showing features of the exploration of Space.
Coming to the stamps featuring Gagarin and Vostok 1, often we find inscribed the words: ЧЕЛОВЕК СТРАНЫ СОВЕТОВ В КОСМОСЕ (roughly translated as 'Soviet Citizen in Space'). In 1972, Cuba remembered these flights in a set of vividly designed and clearly stated commemoratives, seen below. They provide a simple but very useful commentary on the sequence of missions and astronauts.
Type 833, 1961: 'World's First Manned Space Flight', Yuri Gararin
Rocket & Spassky Tower
Rocket, Gagarin & Kremlin

"Our people have been the first to build Socialism. We have been the first to reach out to the Cosmos. We have opened a new era in Science (N.S. Kruschev)

Cuba, Type 409, 1972
Vostok 2
German Titov was the astronaut on this mission, which took place on 6th-7th August, 1961. We are told on the Cuban stamp that the duration of the flight was 25 hours.
Type 856, 1961: 2nd Manned Flight
Type 409, 1972
Vostok 3 & 4
These missions took a step towards the goal of having a team of astronauts in space by having two men aboard. We are now in 1962 and the duration of the voyages, once more according to the Cuban stamp, ahs increased from 25 hours to 95 hours. This time the astronauts were Andrian Nikolayev and Pavel Popovitch.
Type 910, 1962: 1st 'Team' manned Space Flight
Type 409, 1972
Vostok 5 & 6
B.F. Bykovsky was the cosmonaut on Vostok 5 and Valentina Tereshkova on Vostok 6, Tereshkova being the first woman in space.
Type 969, 1963
Type 409, 1972
Type 409, 1972
Two further manned space flights were made in 1964 and 1965 by Voskhod spacecraft, which were modified Vostok spacecraft. It was logical that the the crew be increased. This time there were three cosmonauts. The central figure on the mission was K.P. Feoktistov, seen in the centre below. The other members of the crew were Vladimir Komarov and Boris Yegorov.
Type 1057, 1964: 'Three-manned Space Flight' - Feoktsistov
B.M. Komarov
B.B. Yegorov
Space Walk
Alexei Leonov was one of the 20 Soviet Air Force pilots selected to be part of the first cosmonaut group in 1960. Like all the Soviet cosmonauts, Leonov was a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. His walk in space was originally to have taken place on the Vostok 11 mission, but this was cancelled, and the historic event happened on the Voskhod 2 flight instead. He was outside the spacecraft for 12 minutes and nine seconds on 18 March 1965, connected to the craft by a 5.35-meter tether. At the end of the spacewalk, Leonov's spacesuit had inflated in the vacuum of space to the point where he could not re-enter the airlock. He opened a valve to allow some of the suit's pressure to bleed off and was barely able to get back inside the capsule. Leonov had spent eighteen months undergoing intensive weightlessness training for the mission.
Type 1199, 1967: Cosmonautics Day - Leonov in Space.
Details to be checked.
Komarov was launched on Soyuz 1 despite failures of the previous unmanned tests of the 7K-OK, Cosmos 133 and Cosmos 140. This precipitated the first fatality in the programme. There was no success with the next two flights. Success would only come with Soyuz 3 and G. Beregovoy. Soyuz 4 & 5 followed. Very soon, Soyuz would be a main component in docking with the Salyut space station. Very many different versions would come in the years to follow.
Type 1277, 1968: Beregovoi (Soyuz 3)
Vladimir Shalatov, Boris Volinev, Alexei Yeliseyev & Yevgheny Khrunov
(Soyuz 4 & 5)
Type 1436, 1971: G.T. Dobrovolsky, B.N. Volkov & B.I. Patsaev (Soyuz 11)
U.S.A Win Race to Moon
In spite of their pioneering work, the Russians were narrowly beaten in the race to put a man on the Moon. On the 21st July, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to step on lunar soil. There were two U.S. stamp issues in 1969 associated with this. The first is seen top-right on the cover below and records the famous 'In the beginning God...' theme. The other is an airmail stamp bearing the inscription 'FIRST MAN ON THE MOON'.

U.S.A Type 595, 1969: Earth ands Moon's Surface (top right), then Type 601 from the same year which SG styles as 'Astronaut setting foot on the Moon'

Mayan Interlude
For many years I have collected the stamps of Latin America and have a large number of covers from various countries, generally bought at random. I had not thought a lot about the Mexican cover that you see below until I was preparing the Soviet Space Project. As can be seen from the art work, this is a First Day Cover for the arrival of man on the Moon. From the post-mark and the stamp we learn that the cover was issued on the 10th anniversary of the great event, that is in 1979. For a time, I looked no further into the matter. I cannot remember why, but one day my attention was drawn to the design on the stamp. It is quite clearly a rabbit, seated in a crouching position in a round white horse-shoe shape.
We can begin to unravel the matter if we read closely the words underneath the main image: 'La luna en los códices mexicano' (the Moon in the Mexican Codices). This suggests an ancient origin for the association between Mexico, the Moon and the rabbit. I found this information from Dr. Mary E. Gutierrez, PhD on the website given below:

" One of the most famous depictions of the Mayan Moon Goddess has her sitting within a crescent moon with a foot dangling over the edge. She is seen in profile and holds a rabbit in her arms. Along with many Native Americans, the Maya say the profile of this rabbit can be seen on the surface of the Full Moon. The rabbit she holds recalls the rabbit used by the gods at Teotihuacan to dim the face of Tecuciztecatl who became the Moon." (

In using this stamp on a First Day Cover commemorating man's landing on the Moon, the Mexican Post Office shows no small degree of wit in hearking back to the mythology of the Maya!
1970, Nov. 17: A Soviet Lunokhod-1 unmanned lunar rover made a successful soft landing on the Moon.
Poland, Type 521, 1971
Hungary, Type 554, 1975:
Salyut Space Station
The establishment of a space station was closely linked with the development of Soyuz. Clearly, for a space station to work, there had to be smooth and error-free linking or 'docking' of a space craft carrying personel to the station. This was achieved by the Soyuz-Salyut development. This system remained the basis of Soviet Space Exploration for a number of years.
Type xxx, 1981
U.S.S.R-France Collaboration
Of the western European countries, it was France that showed most readiness to collaborate with the Soviet Union. Below we see material illustrating two ventures: Molniya and Oriel. These series started in 1966. The stamps are from that year and the commemorative covers are from 1972 and 1973.
Type 1163, 1966: 'Space Achievements' : 'Molniya 1' and 'Luna-11'
A Historic Agreement

During the period of détente, Leonid Brezhnev looks over the shoulder of Richard Nixon as he signs the agreement underpinning the U.S.A.-U.S.S.R Apollo-Soyuz link-up.

Apollo-Soyuz Joint U.S.-U.S.S.R Mission (1975)
The first six Apollo space missions wre un-manned. The next four were manned. Along with John Watts Young and Eugene Andrews Cernan, Thomas Patten Stafford was a member of the crew of Apollo 10 in June, 1969. He would also command the joint U.S.-Soviet mission of 1975, as seen on the First Day Cover seen below:
United States of America, Type 705, 1975: 'Apollo-Soyuz Test Project
Type 1612, 1975: 'Apollo-Soyuz' Space Link
INTERCOSMOS International Missions
The programme can be seen to proceed by carefully planned, logical steps. The Soyuz-Salyut link-up of 1971 was followed by the joint U.S.-Soviet mission of 1975. The international dimension was widened in the period 1978-1981 to encompass joint missions with a number of the so-called 'Iron Curtain' and other aligned countries.
The stamps issued by ПОЧТА CCCP have a unity of design and face-value. Three features stand out: a) The conjunction of the hammer and sickle, the Intercosmos emblem and the flag of the collaborating country; b) Bold and colourful art work; c) Sets of three stamps, with values 6, 15 and 32 kopecks. Issues are given in order of the year in which the mission took place.
Type 1743, 1978: Soviet-Czech Space Flight
U.S.S.R-POLAND (1978)
Type 1752, 1978: Soviet-Polish Space Flight
Type 1760, 1978: Soviet-East German Space Flight
Type xxxx, xxxx: Soviet-Bulgarian Space Flight
U.S.S.R-CUBA (1980)
Type xxxx, 1980: Soviet-Cuban Space Flight
U.S.S.R-HUNGARY (1980)
Type xxxx, 1980: Soviet-Hungarian Space Flight
U.S.S.R-VIETNAM (1980)
Type xxxx, 1980: Soviet-East German Space Flight
Type xxxx, 1981: Soviet-Mongolian Space Flight
U.S.S.R-RUMANIA (1981)
Type xxxx, 1981: Soviet-Rumanian Space Flight
Days in Space ( CУТОЌ В КОСМОСЕ)
Another axis of development in the space programme concerned the duration of the voyage. Whereas the Vostok missions of 1961-63 were calculated in hours, by the early 1980s the length of voyages were reckoned in hours. There were a number of stamp issues that highlighted the lengthening of time in Space.
140 Days
To be checked
175 Days
To be checked
185 Days
To be checked
211 Days
To be checked
20 Years After
That is the end of my story.
It was with great pleasure that I took the display on which this project is based to Arbroath Philatelic Society. This was on the 19th October, 2010. The occasion was made particularly special for me by the presence in the presidential and secretarial 'chairs' of Chad Neighbor, a long-time philatelic expert and dealer in the region and the late David Torre, both an eminent philatelist and a rare gentleman. It is the custom on these occasions ,and it is a good one, for the hosts to present the visiting 'team' with a certificate to mark the occasion and record their thanks. I will keep mine safely.
That's it.




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This page was last modified on 28th February 2017.