This stamp set released by Ascension Island celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 first manned mission to the Moon, on 20 July 1969. Ascension Island is proud to have played its part in this incredible achievement.
By the early 1960s space had become the new global high ground for cold war international prestige and Russia was leading the way. They had launched more missions, spent more hours in space and had even achieved the first unmanned moon landing. In June 1963 when Valentina Tereshkova, a 25-year-old textile worker from Yaroslavl became the first woman in space on Vostok 6 she was in orbit 17 hours longer than all the American astronauts put together.
It seemed that the Russians were beating the Americans at everything and President Kennedy wanted results, something that would capture the imagination of the world. In 1961, after just 5 months in office, Kennedy made a commitment to congress of “achieving the goal before the decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
This was an extremely ambitious objective but one that NASA believed was possible. Just one of the many problems they faced was that of communications and the urgent need to develop and expand the Manned Space Flight Network (MSFN), firstly to meet the objectives of their Project Gemini flights but also in preparation for the Apollo flights and their ultimate objective of flying to the moon.
Of the many new stations founded during 1964 the station on Ascension Island was the most isolated. Previously Ascension had taken on an important role refuelling the cargo planes of the “Cannonball Express” which the militarized Pan Am crews flew, rushing high priority supplies between Miami, Florida and Karachi, India. Ironically the airline’s advertising catch phrase in those days was “If you can’t go to the Moon, the next best place is Ascension Island.”
NASA needed a station in the middle of the South Atlantic and in August 1964 the US approached the British Government with a proposal to add a spaceflight tracking station on the island to support both piloted and unpiloted missions. Ascension already played host to a U.S. Air Force radar installation. The island was also the mid-Atlantic relay point for data coming from and going to Africa via cable. An agreement was reached and NASA established a MSFN station on the south side of the island at a place called Devil’s Ashpit.
NASA didn’t skimp in establishing the Ascension Station, spending some $10.8 million in 1965. When it was all done, Ascension proved to be a state-of-the-art, full service station, with operations conducted at a brand new 1,330-square meter (14,300-square foot) air conditioned operations building with a 185-square meter (2,000-square foot) storage building and a 2,500-kilowatt power plant. With the rapid build-up on the island came traffic problems and at the request of the representative of the local British government on Ascension, the Agency constructed access roads on a new southern route to the station from the airport. The route traversed the south facing slopes of Green Mountain allowing traffic to bypass the area around Two Boats Village in the more heavily populated central part of the island. NASA began bringing the Ascension Station online in the spring of 1965, phasing in approximately 10 people each month. At first It was exercised as a secondary tracking station during Project Gemini in preparation for its full-time role on Apollo. By the following March, some 110 station workers were on the island. Due to its remote location and sustainment cost, normally half of the contingent assigned to Ascension was transient personnel on the island only during actual missions. The station was unique as it was the only “singles only” outpost in the network. The prime contractor Bendix apparently thought its remote location and harsh living conditions would pose a hardship, and so company employees were not allowed to bring their families.
By 1967, the MSFN had matured into an interconnected framework of over two dozen ground stations spanning three continents. It supported 10 very successful Gemini flights from March 1965 to November 1966 including NASA’s first two-person spaceflight (Gemini 3); America’s first extravehicular activity (EVA) or spacewalk (Gemini 4); the world’s first spacecraft rendezvous (Gemini 6 and 7); the first docking (Gemini 8); and the highest apogee orbit to date of 1,370 kilometers (850 miles) above the surface of Earth (Gemini 11). The record was indeed impressive. By the end of the program, the United States had leapfrogged the Soviet Union in almost every aspect of human spaceflight.
President Kennedy’s goal of placing an American on the lunar surface by 1970 now seemed much more achievable. NASA’s tracking network was ready and the rest, as they say, is history!
The year 1989 saw the end of NASA operations on Ascension Island. The most isolated location in the network, Ascension ended up as one of the longest serving stations, operating without interruption for close to 25 years.
Designs Bee Design
Printer Security Printing
Process Stochastic Lithography
Perforation 13 ¼ x 13 ¼ per 2cms
Stamp size 36 x 36mm
Sheet Layout 10
Release date 6 December, 2019
Production Co-ordination Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd