We’ve known for years that a 1991 Pluto stamp included on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is the farthest-out piece of postage, but now the U.S. Postal Service and Guinness World Records have officially put it in the record books.
The message on the stamp, “Pluto: Not Yet Explored,” was basically canceled a year ago when New Horizons flew past the dwarf planet, taking pictures as it zoomed by at 36,000 mph.
To celebrate the record – and the New Horizons achievement that rendered the stamp obsolete – the USPS played host to the New Horizons team and Guinness World Records adjudicator Jimmy Coggins today at its Washington headquarters. Coggins presented a certificate recognizing the record to the Postal Service’s Jim Cochrane, NASA’s Jim Green and the Southwest Research Institute’s Alan Stern, who is the principal investigator for the New Horizons mission.
“The farthest distance traveled by a postage stamp is a quite an impressive achievement, as it spans many planets and billions of miles. As stamps are synonymous with travel, it is fitting that one would travel within the solar system,” Coggins said in a news release. “It’s an honor to be a part of this historic moment and welcome the United States Postal Service to the Guinness World Records family.”
The Guinness gang lists the stamp’s record distance as 3,262,723,132 miles, but each day adds to that figure. By 2019, when New Horizons is due to fly past another icy world on the solar system’s edge, known as 2014 MU69, the odometer should be spinning past 4 billion miles.
“Pluto: Not Yet Explored” was part of a set of solar system stamps that were issued back in 1991, after the Voyager spacecraft had made their way past the orbit of Neptune. Because of the probes’ trajectories, they couldn’t get a look at Pluto – which was known as the ninth planet back then. The “Not Yet Explored” label fired up a group of planetary scientists known as the Pluto Underground. They began a years-long effort to get NASA to fund a mission to Pluto, which paid off at last with New Horizons.
The New Horizons team put a copy of the 1991 stamp on the payload as a tribute to their labors, along with other mementos. “I wanted to fly it as a sort of ‘in your face’ thing,” Stern said back in 2008.
This year, the U.S. Postal Service issued a batch of stamps celebrating the eight major planets of the solar system, plus a pair of stamps that show off the New Horizons spacecraft and its best view of Pluto. The label on the New Horizons stamp sheet? “Pluto – Explored!”