Postal Service Celebrates NASA Discoveries With Brand-New Pluto Stamps

Pluto was downgraded to a dwarf planet nearly 10 years ago, but the tiny celestial body is just now receiving a consolation prize: its very own set of postage stamps. Yesterday, NASA debuted its new “Pluto—Explored!” Forever stamps, The New York Times reports. The two-stamp collection honors the historic New Horizons mission, and features a color-enhanced composite fly-by shot of the rocky planet and an artist’s rendering of the expedition’s spacecraft.

“The unveiling of these breathtaking new images of Pluto and our planets will be an exciting day for NASA and for all who love space exploration," Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement. “With the 2015 Pluto flyby, we’ve completed the initial reconnaissance of the solar system, and we’re grateful to the U.S. Postal Service for commemorating this historic achievement.” 

Along with the special Pluto stamps, NASA also announced a stamp collection called “Views of our Planets.” It includes eight stamps depicting our solar system’s major planets—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Earth. Also introduced this year was a Global Forever stamp dedicated to Earth’s moon. (Keeping with the space theme, the postal service is releasing four Star Trek-themed stamps in honor of the franchise’s upcoming 50th anniversary this summer.)

According to Smithsonian, this isn’t the first time Pluto has graced a U.S. postage stamp. In 1991, the U.S. Postal Service released a series of 29-cent stamps featuring images of all the major planets (including the not-yet-demoted Pluto) and the moon. Each stamp included an image of the first spacecraft to explore them, except for Pluto. The stamp was instead emblazoned with the phrase “Pluto: Not Yet Explored.”

When the New Horizons craft launched in 2006, NASA scientists made sure the Pluto: Not Yet Explored stamp was on board. “For many years, people had waved that stamp around as sort of a call to arms—as a motivating graphic—‘Not yet explored,'” New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern told Astronomy Magazine. “That stamp had been in so many presentations by that point, I knew it would please people to have it go along.” As the New Horizons probe approached Pluto last July, Stern and his colleagues held up a poster of the Pluto stamp, with the words “Not” and “Yet” crossed out.

NASA’s new space stamps were dedicated last week at the World Stamp Show-NY, and went on sale yesterday in post offices and online. You’ll be able to buy the planet stamps in person, but the two Pluto stamps are sadly only available for digital purchase, or by calling 800-782-6724. Check them out below.

[h/t Nerdist]

All images courtesy of NASA. 

The Fascinating Device Astronauts Use to Weigh Themselves in Space

Most every scale on Earth, from the kind bakers use to measure ingredients to those doctors use to weigh patients, depends on gravity to function. Weight, after all, is just the mass of an object times the acceleration of gravity that’s pushing it toward Earth. That means astronauts have to use unconventional tools when recording changes to their bodies in space, as SciShow explains in the video below.

While weight as we know it technically doesn’t exist in zero-gravity conditions, mass does. Living in space can have drastic effects on a person’s body, and measuring mass is one way to keep track of these changes.

In place of a scale, NASA astronauts use something called a Space Linear Acceleration Mass Measurement Device (SLAMMD) to “weigh” themselves. Once they mount the pogo stick-like contraption it moves them a meter using a built-in spring. Heavier passengers take longer to drag, while a SLAMMD with no passenger at all takes the least time to move. Using the amount of time it takes to cover a meter, the machine can calculate the mass of the person riding it.

Measuring weight isn’t the only everyday activity that’s complicated in space. Astronauts have been forced to develop clever ways to brush their teeth, clip their nails, and even sleep without gravity.

[h/t SciShow]

Watch Astronauts Assemble Pizza in Space

Most everyone enjoys a good pizza party: Even astronauts living aboard the International Space Station.

As this video from NASA shows, assembling pizza in zero gravity is not only possible, it also has delicious results. The inspiration for the pizza feast came from Paolo Nespoli, an Italian astronaut who was craving one of his home country’s national dishes while working on the ISS. NASA’s program manager for the space station, Kirk Shireman, sympathized with his colleague and ordered pizzas to be delivered to the station.

NASA took a little longer responding to the request than your typical corner pizzeria might. The pizzas were delivered via the Orbital ATK capsule, and once they arrived, the ingredients had to be assembled by hand. The components didn’t differ too much from regular pizzas on Earth: Flatbread, tomato sauce, and cheese served as the base, and pepperoni, pesto, olives, and anchovy paste made up the toppings. Before heating them up, the astronauts had some fun with their creations, twirling them around like "flying saucers of the edible kind,” according to astronaut Randy Bresnik.

In case the pizza party wasn’t already a success, it also coincided with movie night on the International Space Station.

[h/t KHQ Q6]


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