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New US Postage Stamp Commemorates NASA’s Asteroid Sample Delivery

OSIRIS-REx – the first U.S. mission to return a sample collected from an asteroid – got its own postage stamp.

Postage stamps bookmark some of history’s brightest moments. Arctic explorations, the first Moon landing, and the signing of the Bill of Rights all appear on commemorative stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service. And now, OSIRIS-REx – the first U.S. mission to return a sample collected from an asteroid – will get its own stamp, too.

On Sept. 24, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security – Regolith Explorer) spacecraft will speed past Earth and – at precisely the right moment – jettison its sample capsule containing material from asteroid Bennu. In 2020, the spacecraft briefly touched the asteroid’s surface and collected a sample of rock and dust from the asteroid.

Scientists anticipate that the Bennu material will provide new insights into our solar system’s formation more than 4.5 billion years ago. It also will shed light on the role that asteroids may have played in delivering water and organic molecules, the building blocks of life, to the infant Earth.

Sheet of 20 stamps that show a desert landscape with the OSIRIS-REx sample return capsule attached to a red and white parachute descending. The sheet has the text "OSIRIS-REx Mission to Asteroid and Bennu and Return to Earth."
A pane of 20 OSIRIS-REx commemorative stamps, released by the Postal Service on Sept. 22, 2023. Artwork highlights the mission’s defining moments, including the sample capsule’s final descent over the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range. Credits: U.S. Postal Service

To help celebrate this engineering and scientific achievement, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp featuring an artist’s impression of the sample capsule as it parachutes to Earth over its landing site on the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range.

“OSIRIS-REx has already achieved so many mission firsts,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We are honored that our mission will also enjoy the spotlight of a postage stamp canvas.”

Although OSIRIS-REx has already had many scientific accomplishments, at its heart, the mission’s research goals circle around the sample delivery from Bennu. That influenced the Postal Service’s decision to select the capsule’s descent as the subject of the new stamp.

“The safe and successful return of a sample from the surface of an asteroid is the crowning moment of the program,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “From day one, it has been the single focus.”

That being said, “There are these other aspects of the mission that are very important,” said Antonio Alcalá, the Postal Service art director, aspects like mapping the asteroid’s surface, targeting the ideal sample collection site, and retrieving the sample. So, to compensate for the small canvas size of an individual stamp, Alcalá decided to depict these other mission milestones in the full pane’s accompanying artwork.

“It’s a very nice visual shorthand,” said Daniel Gallagher, a multimedia producer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Gallagher helped orchestrate the stamp’s design at an early stage. “Even if you knew nothing about this mission, you could look at that margin and get the gist of it.”

As a member of the 2023 stamp class, OSIRIS-REx will share the spotlight with a collection celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act and a tribute to the career of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the late U.S. Supreme Court justice.

By enabling scientists to study such well-preserved rocks and dust from an asteroid – which are older than the most ancient Earth rocks – OSIRIS-REx may help answer fundamental questions: Where did we come from? How did life originate? Why is Earth a habitable planet?

The material collected by OSIRIS-REx will be carefully curated and shared with scientists around the globe. A portion of the sample will also be preserved for future generations of researchers to study it with fresh insights and the latest technologies.

“At the end of the day, OSIRIS-REx’s true impact is on that next generation,” said Lauretta. “We’ve already trained so many leaders, broad thinkers, and visionaries that are coming out of this program. The payback to the nation is incalculable.”

The value of the research OSIRIS-REx enables may be incalculable, as Lauretta said, but the OSIRIS-REx stamp on the other hand will always be equal in value to the current First-Class Mail 1 ounce price.

By Nathan Marder
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Media Contact:
Rani Gran
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.