Search This Blog

The Economics of Climate Change

The Jevons Effect, the Khazzoom–Brookes Postulate and Recent IEA Assumptions – Is it time to Rewrite Economic Theory or Face Reality?   In...

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Stamps and Space: Geography, History, Astronomy & Curiosity

In this blog, I hope to be able to combine thoughts and information about two areas of personal interest – philately and astronomy. I collect stamps and study stamps and have been doing so since the age of five.

Every stamp is issued by a sovereign state and as a child, every stamp seemed to have a story. There were so many stamps, so many countries and thus, so many stories.

Stamp collecting developed in me an interest in the subject of geography. When I first studied geography at school, it was about the world and the planet as we knew it on the day. Over the years, I realized that history and geography are closely linked. History is the study of the past. How far back into history one wishes to research is really an individual choice.It was only some years later, when I lived in Cambridge for a couple of years and had the opportunity to work at the Cavendish Laboratory (Physics Department) of the University of Cambridge, that it occurred to me that those historians who are trying to research all the way back to the beginning of time are really astronomers! As a child, I recall thinking that it would be interesting to be able to go back to that ‘In the beginning’ event that we learnt about during our bible knowledge class. That sounded to me like time – travel. 

My personal interest in space really started in the 1960s. It was the American-USSR race to the moon that caught my attention and it climaxed with the Apollo 11 landing on the lunar surface. After the moon landing, I recall that our Malaysian National Museum had an exhibition showcasing replicas and models of equipment that took the astronauts to the moon and back. There was even a sample of moon rock on display. One Sunday morning after we attended mass, my parents took my brothers and I to the museum to visit the exhibition, and I remember that when we exited the exhibition, we each received  a photograph of the three  Apollo 11 astronauts in their space suits. I treasured that photograph for many years. Not long afterwards there was also the Apollo 13 incident and once again we found ourselves immersed in conversations in school that included many words we could neither spell nor pronounce. But we knew them to be important words and if we wanted to be part of the then topical conversations, we had to know them! I intend to cover the Apollo missions in a later post as I have many stamps  and a few stories commemorating this event that require specific presentation.

It was only during the time  that I spent in Cambridge, in later years that I developed an interest in astronomy and the wonders of the Universe (some people prefer to use the term ‘Multiverse’).  In 1977, I spent some six months working at the Cavendish Labs of the University of Cambridge. When I look back, I can really say that this was a very interesting period of my life (but I was not to know it at that time). Until 2019, thirty Nobel Prizes had been awarded to scientists doing their research at the Cavendish. Scientists like Professor James Clerk Maxwell and Ernest Rutherford were some of the more illustrious names who delivered seminal work at the Cavendish but in 1974 it was radio astronomer, Sir Martin Ryle, also with the Cavendish, who was a recipient. Indeed in 1977, the year I was working there, the Nobel Prize in Physics was shared by Nevill Mott and Philip Anderson, also of the Cavendish. 

Any individual who applies his or her mind to the scale, structure and science of the universe (and its history) would soon observe a Pandora’s Box of mysteries and questions unfold. Today, as we launch more and more instruments into space, we are collecting more and more data and with each day, our interpretation of the information that is being received is enhancing our understanding of how the universe works and we are having to shift our paradigms and reset our assumptions. 

To kick-off this blog, I thought it would be appropriate to share this First Day Cover commemorating the maiden space flight. It marks the launch of the very first instrument that humankind was able to send into space.

On October 4, 1957, at the Soviet Cosmodrome, Baikonur, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (a country that existed until 1991) launched Sputnik (meaning satellite, fellow traveller or companion). This was the world’s first man-made space satellite and it was launched into orbit around the earth.

The successful launch heralded a new era in history – the Space Age.

On November 3, the USSR launched a second satellite, Sputnik 2 complete with a pressurised cabin and life support. Nestled inside was a dog named Laika, the first known living thing to orbit the earth. Sadly, Laika did not survive the mission and it is reported that she passed away after six days of a seven-day journey.

This First Day Cover was issued by the Republic of the Marshall Islands, a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean, north east of Australia in 1999 to commemorate the start of the Space Age.

The First Day Cover  above is  from my personal collection and it was  photographed with a Nikon D200 camera fitted with a macro lens.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Ken - this is a wonderfully insightful piece, and while it combines your 2 loves, it takes me back to the 1970s when I loved collecting stamps and first day covers. The amazing thing was the Space Race to an extent was abound and I have several stamps and covers which were related to the numerous missions undertaken between Russia and USA. Thank you for the memories and stirring some thought as to the vastness of the Universe as we dont know it (adequately or otherwise). Indeed in these trying times, paradigm shifts and assumptions have become the norm. Regards, Zaheer