Bremen, 5 March 2009 – The cards and envelopes that arrived in Bremen in Germany on Thursday 5 March have completed the longest journey ever made by post – 177,296,265 kilometres to be precise.
A total of 1,200 ‘first day cover’ envelopes and 550 cards began their voyage at the beginning of 2008 on board the supply Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) ‘Jules Verne’ supply craft en route for the International Space Station (ISS).
Under contract to the European Space Agency (ESA), Airbus Defence and Space is responsible for the operation and exploitation of the European segments of the ISS, which includes the preparation and execution of the ATV missions. The ATV supplies the ISS not only with fuel, gas and water, but also with clothing, food and scientific instruments for the crew. As it can carry a payload of 9.5 tonnes, the 4.5 kilos of cards and envelopes did not weigh heavily in the balance. The 550 cards will now remain in Bremen while the 1,200 envelopes will go on to Airbus Defence and Space's St-Médard-en-Jalles site near Bordeaux in France.
Luc Delmon, President of the philately association La Marianne travelled to Bremen especially for the reception ceremony. Helmut Luttmann, Airbus Defence and Space’s Head of ISS operation and exploitation handed the cards and envelopes over to Mr Delmon and Ulrich Bremer, a management committee member of the ERNO-Philatelie association.
A dozen of the letters had the privilege of being signed and postmarked on board the ISS by Russian astronauts Oleg Kononenko and Sergeï Volkov.
"It is a great honour to give these letters to the philatelists of Airbus Defence and Space," declared Helmut Luttmann. "They constitute the only remaining element of the ATV Jules Verne." Currently, production of the second ATV, named ‘Johannes Kepler’, is making good progress. This second ATV mission will be launched in the second half of 2010, and mission preparation is in full swing. "Johannes Kepler is already almost complete," said Mr Luttmann.
The first day cover cards and envelopes have been through a true odyssey. Airbus Defence and Space’s ATV cargo manager Rachid Amekrane was very keen for this special mail to make the journey and return to Bremen intact. After undergoing a whole battery of tests – just as all items transported to the space station – the mail was transferred to Turin in Italy for further inspection, sterilisation and packing in a Cargo Transfer Bag, then on to the European spaceport in Kourou in French Guiana. They were finally loaded onto the ATV Jules Verne which left Earth on 9 March 2008 on board an Ariane 5 launch vehicle. The documents remained inside the ATV until August 2008, and were unloaded just shortly before de-docking. The ATV then began its controlled re-entry into the terrestrial atmosphere, where it disintegrated. As for the cards and envelopes, they made the return journey on 30 November with the American space shuttle ‘Endeavour’, when it returned from its STS-126 mission after some 4,200 orbits around the Earth. This time the shuttle landed not in Florida but at the Edwards Airbase in California. On 12 December it was returned to Florida on board a Boeing 747 which has been specially fitted out to carry the space shuttles. It was not until 3 March 2009 that the ‘space mail’ arrived back in Bremen. "No exceptions were made for the first day cover items. All the security measures applicable to manned flights had to be complied with. Nevertheless, we did benefit from the invaluable support of ESA, the astronauts and NASA," explained Rachid Amekrane as he opened the packet.
About Airbus Defence and Space
Airbus Defence and Space, a wholly owned subsidiary of AIRBUS Group, is dedicated to providing civil and defence space systems and services. In 2007, Airbus Defence and Space had a turnover of €3.5 billion and 12,000 employees in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands. Its three main areas of activity are Airbus Defence and Space for launchers and orbital infrastructure, Airbus Defence and Space for spacecraft and ground segment and its wholly owned subsidiary Airbus Defence and Space for the development and delivery of satellite services.
AIRBUS Group is a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services. In 2007, AIRBUS Group generated revenues of €39.1 billion and employed a workforce of more than 116, 000.
Kirsten Leung (Airbus Defence and Space D) Tel.: +49 (0) 4 21 5 39 53 26
Matthieu Duvelleroy (Airbus Defence and Space FR) Tel.: +33 (0) 1 77 75 80 32
Jeremy Close (Airbus Defence and Space GB) Tel.: +44 (0)1 438 77 3872
Francisco Lechón (Airbus Defence and Space SP) Tel.: +34 91 586 37 41