National Bison Day & Mariner 10 Launch

United States - Scott #1392 (1970), Scott #1557 (1975)
United States – Scott #1392 (1970), Scott #1557 (1975)

After a bit of deliberation, I have decided to feature two stamps in this A Stamp A Day entry.

Since 2012, the first Saturday in November (November 3 in 2018) has been marked as National Bison Day in the United States. The day is a commemoration of the ecological, cultural, historical and economic contribution of the American bison (also commonly known as the American buffalo) to the United States. Bison supporters, including Native Americans, bison producers, conservationists, sportsmen, and educators typically plan local events and social media engagements celebrating and promoting the bison.

The North American species of bison that once roamed the grasslands of North America in massive herds, became nearly extinct by a combination of commercial Bison hunting and slaughter in the 19th century and introduction of bovine diseases from domestic cattle. About 20 million buffalo lived on the Western plains in 1850. White hunters began to drastically reduce the buffalo herds, and by 1889, only 551 buffalo could be found in the entire United States. “Buffalo” Bill Cody alone killed more than 4,000 buffalo in just two years. Later, great efforts were made to help the animal recover. In 2000, the number of bison had been restored to over 350,000.

American bison photographed in Cimarron, New Mexico.
American bison photographed in Cimarron, New Mexico.

The animal is considered a historical symbol of the United States, integrally linked with the economic and spiritual lives of many Indian tribes through trade and sacred ceremonies. On May 9, 2016, President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act into law, officially making the American bison the national mammal of the United States.

Scott #1392, a 6-cent Wildlife Conservation stamp, was first placed on sale at Custer, South Dakota, on July 20, 1970. The stamp depicts an American buffalo and was designed by Robert Lougheed. It was was printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing on the rotary press in panes of fifty, perforated 11 x 10½, with a total printing of 142,205,000.

Artists' impression of the Mariner 10 mission. The first mission to perform a gravity assist, it used a flyby of the planet Venus in order to decrease its perihelion. This would allow the spacecraft to meet Mercury on three occasions in 1974 and 1975.
Artists’ impression of the Mariner 10 mission. The first mission to perform a gravity assist, it used a flyby of the planet Venus in order to decrease its perihelion. This would allow the spacecraft to meet Mercury on three occasions in 1974 and 1975.

On November 3, 1973, an American robotic space probe called Mariner 10 was launched by NASA towards the planets Venus and Mercury aboard an Atlas-Centaur rocket. The mission objectives were to measure Mercury’s environment, atmosphere, surface, and body characteristics and to make similar investigations of Venus. Secondary objectives were to perform experiments in the interplanetary medium and to obtain experience with a dual-planet gravity assist mission.

The spacecraft passed Venus on February 5, 1974, the closest approach being 3,584 miles (5,768 km). It was the twelfth spacecraft to reach Venus and the eighth to return data from the planet, as well as the first mission to succeed in broadcasting images of Venus back to Earth. As Mariner 10 veered around Venus, from the planet’s night side to daylight, the cameras snapped the probe’s first image of Venus, showing an illuminated arc of clouds over the north pole emerging from darkness.

Illustration depicting various parts of the Mariner 10 spacecraft and the science instruments, which were used to study the atmospheric, surface, and physical characteristics of Venus and Mercury.
Illustration depicting various parts of the Mariner 10 spacecraft and the science instruments, which were used to study the atmospheric, surface, and physical characteristics of Venus and Mercury.

The spacecraft flew past Mercury three times. The first Mercury encounter took place at 20:47 UT on March 29, 1974, at a range of 437 miles (703 km), passing on the shadow side. After looping once around the Sun while Mercury completed two orbits, Mariner 10 flew by Mercury again on September 21, 1974, at a more distant range of 29,869 miles (48,069 km) below the southern hemisphere. After losing roll control in October 1974, a third and final encounter, the closest to Mercury, took place on March 16, 1975, at a range of 203 miles (327 km), passing almost over the north pole.

With its maneuvering gas just about exhausted, Mariner 10 started another orbit of the Sun. Engineering tests were continued until March 24, 1975, when final depletion of the nitrogen supply was signaled by the onset of an un-programmed pitch turn. Commands were sent immediately to the spacecraft to turn off its transmitter, and radio signals to Earth ceased. Mariner 10 is presumably still orbiting the Sun, although its electronics have probably been damaged by the Sun’s radiation. The spacecraft has not been spotted or tracked from Earth since it stopped transmitting. The only way it would not be orbiting would be if it had been hit by an asteroid or gravitationally perturbed by a close encounter with a large body.

First half of the trajectory of Mariner 10 spacecraft: since launch on November 3rd, 1973 to first fly-by of Mercury on March 29th, 1974.
First half of the trajectory of Mariner 10 spacecraft: since launch on November 3rd, 1973 to first fly-by of Mercury on March 29th, 1974.

Since the backup spacecraft was never launched, it was put on exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution.

On April 4, 1975, the United States Postal Service issued Scott #1557 — a commemorative stamp featuring the Mariner 10 space probe — at Pasadena, California. The 10-cent stamp had been lithographed and engraved by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing using the colors  black, red, ultramarine, and bister. A total quantity of 158,600,000 copies were printed, perforated 11.

Flag of the United States, 1959-date
Flag of the United States, 1959-date

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