Space Post Office
China Opens 'Space' Post Office on Docked Spacecraft
China opened a new post office Thursday (Nov. 3) with a street address that is 213 miles (343 km) above the Earth. Coinciding with the country achieving its first ever docking in space between the unmanned Shenzhou 8 spacecraft and Tiangong-1 space lab module, the "China Post Space Office" opened for business both on the ground in Beijing Aerospace City and, at least virtually, on board the newly established orbital complex. Located on the ground near China's mission control, the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center (BACC), the new space post office even has its own zip code that extends into orbit: 901001. Advertisement Like any postal facility, the office will process letters and, in this case, e-mails, making it possible for the public to write Chinese astronauts, or "taikonauts," on the ground and in space. The space post office will offer domestic and international delivery as well as philatelic products, with more services expected to be introduced as China's aerospace industry eventually expands. Yang Liwei, who in 2003 became China's first taikonaut in space, will serve as the post office's honorary chief. A partnership between the China Post Group Corporation and the China Manned Space Engineering (CMSE) Office, the post office will also sell philatelic collectibles depicting China's major events in space. Among the first souvenirs offered are cancelled envelopes, or "covers," celebrating the Shenzhou 8 and Tiangong 1 docking complete with a commemorative postmark. [Photos From China's 1st Space Docking Mission] China's postal service has issued other commemoratives for its country's previous space accomplishment but not through a dedicated "space" post office. Shenzhou 8, which launched on Oct. 31 EDT, caught up with and docked at the Tiangong 1 space lab module on Nov. 2 EDT. The two unpiloted spacecraft will remain linked for 12 days before the Shenzhou detaches, backs away, and then approaches again. After the second demonstration of docking techniques, Shenzhou 8 will return to Earth. In addition to demonstrating docking, Shenzhou 8 is also flying space life science experiments for both China and Germany. The first docking established China as the third nation to achieve such a space feat with spacecraft designed to carry astronauts, after the United States and Russia. The orbital hookup marked a step forward toward China's plans to deploy a manned space station by 2020. Russia has operated a makeshift post office on its space stations since the 1970s and continues to operate such a service on the International Space Station. The Russian space office consists primarily of a postmark device that is only used in space. Cosmonauts use the ink stamp to mark letters and postcards as having flown in orbit, but also use it to mark other space souvenirs including crew notebooks, equipment and patches. Follow collectSPACE on Facebook and Twitter @collectSPACE and editor Robert Pearlman @robertpearlman. Copyright 2011 collectSPACE.com. All rights reserved.
Postcards sent from outer space
BEIJING - Think getting a letter from the other side of the globe is cool? Imagine getting one from space. In a new marketing ploy by China's postal service, people can write letters that will be sent digitally to the Tiangong-1 space lab. From a special e-mail box onboard, the letter will be sent back to Earth and then delivered to the receiver in printed form. "New media has dealt a heavy blow to the traditional postal service. The number of people writing letters dropped significantly in recent years," Sun Buxin, director of the Haidian district post office in Beijing and executive director of the China Space Post Office, said on Thursday. "Most letters we handle now are business letters, but even this sector is experiencing a sharp drop," he said. The solution is to change. "People now like to go on the Internet and use e-mails and micro blogs to communicate, so we have to combine new media with our resources to provide more individualized services and catch up with the pace of people's change in habits," he said. The China Space Post Office - the latest of its efforts - was opened on Nov 3 at Beijing Aerospace City and onboard the newly established orbital complex Tiangong-1. The price of the new service has not yet been announced. Using its own zip code and post seal, the space post office will print the letters on special paper and will also send designed postmarks into space onboard spacecraft, including Shenzhou IX and Shenzhou X, both slated for launch next year. After returning to Earth, those postmarks will be sold to collectors through a lottery. In addition, the post office will work as a transit stop for letters whose senders want to have them stamped with the special seal before being delivered to receivers. The space post office will sell collectible stamps depicting China's major events in space. Yang Liwei, China's first astronaut in space, is the post office's chief. China's post service provider has been trying to retain users with creative measures in recent years. Last year, a future-themed post office opened with a zip code of 101010, and people can send letters in specially designed envelopes that will arrive in 2020 to the designated receiver. In 2009, a post office was set up for Tian'anmen Square with a zip code of 100060 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China - and tourists sending postcards from there will create memorable souvenirs. All of these new ideas stem from a bitter struggle in recent years, Sun said. Yet the results are satisfying, bringing both new revenues and a polished image, he said. Many young Chinese welcomed the new postal services but expected more. Yang Tingting, 23, a college staff worker in Shanghai, said that writing a letter with pen and paper is now a romantic thing to do for couples. "The idea of writing a letter to myself or my boyfriend that will be delivered in 10 years is really great, but the service could be more diversified, such as letting the senders choose when they want the letter delivered," she said, adding how well the State-owned postal service can perform remains a question. Qian Yili, a postgraduate student in Shanghai who has not written a letter for six years, said the post office should improve the quality of its basic services as well. "Demand for those creative services won't be there for long. Most people still count on post offices for basic services, but our postcards and parcels often get lost on the way. The quality of services is the focus," she said. Jin Huiyu contributed to this story.
Shenzhou-8 re-entry capsule opened in Beijing
The spacecraft Shenzhou-8 returned to earth last week after a 17-day journey orbiting the planet. The re-entry capsule has been carrying a number of experiments and items and it was opened up. Like a treasure chest - Hundreds of items are unloaded from Shenzhou-8. Some fill a scientific purpose, others a symbolic function. Here, a special variety of tomatoes are already bearing fruit. The re-entry capsule of China’s unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou-8 has been opened to unload on-board items and pre-installed back-up systems and equipment. Zhao Hui, China Aerospace Science & Technology Corp., said, "There were eight seedlings on the spaceship. They all bear fruit now, which means our experiment is successful." Li Kaimin, CPC Committee Secretary, China Aerospace Science & Technology Corp., said, "Look at these tomatoes. Our astronauts, and future outer space travellers can have fresh and good tomatoes." But it was just about science. Wang Zheng is a primary school pupil and his drawing was chosen to be sent up on-board Shenzhou-8. Wang Zheng, pupil of Beijing Wanquan Primary School, said, "I drew Shenzhou-8 on my painting, because it carries Chinese people’s dream. This here is a garbage van. I know there’s plenty of junk out there, so I think this garbage van can help clean-up together with these robots." The successful docking of Shenzhou-8 and Tiangong-1means it’s now possible to deliver cargo to a station or craft in space. China Post was quick to respond and opened China’s first outer space post office. Yang Liwei, director of China Post, Space Post Bureau, said, "This is definitely the first time. We established the space post bureau to promote the spirit of space exploration and the postal services." Scientists are now busy analyzing the data accumulated during the mission and hope to further improve the capsule’s comfort and safety. Two more missions are planned next year to improve China’s docking technology and one of them shall carry astronauts.
1 The opening ceremony of China's "space post office" was officially held at 10 am, Nov 3rd, 2011, which stands for a new step for the China Post.
2 China’s space program is renowned for its secrecy, but a newly opened “space post office” provides an enticing glimpse into the future, and a lot of novelty stamps.
3 “As far as I know, we’re the world’s only space post office,” Liu Dong (name changed on request), a clerk at the post office, said.