Vital steps in the U.S. race to the Moon, the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo projects formed a series of missions that quickly built up U.S. spaceflight technology. Project Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard was the first American to go into space, on a suborbital flight. Fellow Mercury astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. Project Gemini, named for the twins of Greek mythology, used two-man astronaut crews. Its achievements included the first U.S. spacewalks.
Project Apollo began in tragedy with the loss of three astronauts in a launchpad fire in January 1967. After resuming in October 1968, the manned Apollo missions soon led to the first lunar landing. On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first human beings in history to walk on the surface of the Moon. This event has been commemorated by six U.S. postage stamps to date. The first one, issued in 1969, was printed from a master die taken to the Moon by the Apollo 11 astronauts.
Several joint U.S.-Soviet or U.S.-Russian projects, as well as the 16-nation International Space Station, have been represented in U.S. stamps. In some cases, American and Russian designers have collaborated on the stamps as well. The Apollo-Soyuz stamps of 1975 commemorate that year’s joint exercise, in which an Apollo spacecraft was experimentally docked with a Soviet Soyuz capsule while in Earth orbit. U.S. stamp designer Robert McCall created the first of the two stamps, in which the docking is complete; Soviet designer Anatoly M. Aksamit produced the second stamp, showing the capsules still slightly apart.
An even more unusual project was a block of four stamps (Space Accomplishments issue, Scott 2631-2634) produced in 1992, the year that the Soviet Union was formally dissolved. In these stamps, milestones of the Soviet and U.S. space programs of the past are combined in each design. These stamps were jointly designed by Robert McCall and Russian designer Vladimir Beilin.
The unmanned Hubble Space Telescope is a joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency.