Tuesday, April 12, 2011

50th Anniversary of Human Space Flight

To view the high resolution images,  click on the images above


On 12 April 2011, the United Nations Postal Administration (UNPA) issued three stamps in a mini-sheet format of sixteen stamps to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Human Space Flight. UNPA also issued one souvenir sheet with six different denominations, two from each office, namely New York, Geneva and Vienna. This is the first time ever that UNPA has issued a souvenir sheet in this format. 

On 12 April 2011, special first day hand-cancellations for the “50th Anniversary of Human Space Flight” stamps were made available at United Nations Headquarters in New York; the Palais des Nations, Geneva; and the Vienna International Centre.

The stamps in the denominations of 44 cents, F.s. 0,50 and € 0,35 measure 40 mm horizontally by 30 mm vertically, perforation to perforation. Perforation: 13. 
The horizontal sheets of sixteen stamps have four marginal inscriptions, two in the left margin and two in the right margin. The marginal inscription consists of the United Nations emblem with the text “United Nations” above the emblem and the year 2011 below the emblem. One copyright symbol with the year 2011 appears in the bottom left margin. The artist’s signature appears in the lower right margin. 

UNPA issued one souvenir sheet design with six denominations on the sheet, two from each office. The souvenir sheets, in the denominations of 44 cents, 98 cents, F.s. 0,85, F.s. 1,00, € 0,55 and € 0,65 measure 83 mm x 260 mm. This is the first time ever that UNPA has issued a souvenir sheet in this format.

The stamps and souvenir sheets were printed in offset by Lowe-Martin Group (Canada).

On 12 April 1961, Yuri Gagarin of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics became the first human to travel into outer space. His space flight heralded a new era of human endeavour in what has become known as the “final frontier”. Since that historic flight, humans have set foot upon the Moon, have learned to work in the harsh vacuum of outer space, and, for the last decade, have maintained a permanent human presence outside the Earth. 
Though human space flight began during the height of the cold war, it became an arena of both competition and cooperation. The race that culminated in the first steps taken on the Moon by American astronaut Neil Armstrong on 20 July 1969, also resulted in the first tentative steps towards international cooperation in human space flight— the 1975 joint American-Soviet space mission, known as the “Apollo-Soyuz Test Project”. Since then, nations have recognized the benefits of working together in outer space and that cooperation has led to the establishment of humanity’s permanent space outpost: the International Space Station (ISS). With over 15 nations working together in what is considered one of humankind’s greatest scientific and technical achievements, the ISS is a truly international endeavour and epitomizes one of the goals of the United Nations: international cooperation in outer space. 

United Nations interest in the use and exploration of outer space began shortly after the launch of the first satellite “Sputnik-1” in 1957. Recognizing the incredible potential offered by space technology for overcoming Earth-based problems like famine and disasters, the Member States of the United Nations established a permanent United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). Tasked with developing a legal framework for the conduct of activities in outer space and also facilitating the use of space-based technology and its application for developed and developing nations alike, the Committee met for the first time on 27 November 1961, the same year as Gagarin’s flight. 
In the five decades of its existence, COPUOS has created five international treaties and five legal principles governing the activities of nations in outer space. This body of space law enshrines key concepts such as: the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all nations, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all humankind; the banning of the placement of weapons of mass destruction in outer space; and outer space is not subject to national appropriation. With modern civilization becoming increasingly dependent on space-based technology such as satellite communications and satellite navigation, the potential damage to these systems by collisions with space debris has become of increasing concern to nations. As such, the work of COPUOS has become even more relevant today, with its development of guidelines for use by countries to prevent and mitigate the creation of space debris; its discussions on the need to ensure the long-term sustainability of space activities; and its continuing work in ensuring all countries benefit from the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes. 

The stamps and souvenir sheets were designed by Peter Bollinger (U.S.A.). Renowned in the field of commercial art, Peter Bollinger is an award-winning illustrator whose clients include Grey Advertising, Sony Entertainment, DreamWorks, Sega, Wizards of the Coast, Nintendo, Mars, Harper Collins, Scholastic and many other publishing, advertising and entertainment organizations. Holding degrees in industrial and environmental design, Peter’s expertise covers diverse fields, from the design of computer terminals and street furniture, to monorails and automobiles. He has won major design and illustration awards in the United States, Australia, Italy and Japan. He undertakes architectural and concept design for numerous clients locally and abroad such as Disney Imagineering, Discovery Communications and numerous Japanese theme parks. Peter works in two separate styles, traditional airbrush and digital illustration, although the two have become more and more similar with each passing technical innovation. Once a die-hard New Yorker, Peter now lives in the relative tranquility of Silverado, California, with his family. These are Mr. Bollinger’s first stamp designs for the United Nations.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Days 1-3: The 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix...Formula 1 madness!

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I guess this would be my shortest vacation email ever, a memorable one nevertheless. Haversack on my back, I took off for a short stint to Kuala Lumpur and Sepang for the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix. And what a race to have been part of! As a commentator said, "a fantastic race, indeed. This time last year I recall a deluge of complaints about the perceived lack of drama in Formula 1. No such worries 12 months on."

To begin with, I took a Malaysia Airlines flight to Kuala Lumpur. Now the last time I took the same flight, it was an ancient aircraft. This time, the aircraft was brand new and I mean wow! Apart from brand new seats and the usual touchscreen entertainment systems, for the first time ever I witnessed all the economy seats with a USB port that enables you to charge your mobile, video game device etc. Not even Jet's newest aircraft have this in economy. I slept throughout the flight so no comments on the food and on board entertainment.

The hotel I am staying in is the Trader's hotel near the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC). The view of the Petronas Towers from the hotel is excellent. You peep out and there are the towers with a garden between you and the towers. An unobstructed view. The hotel also has a real cool free buggy service from the hotel to the towers and back. On the top most floor of the hotel (the 33rd floor) is a swimming pool on the terrace and unknown to me there is also a bar called the 'SkyBar' which has been rated as the best Malaysian bar. Needless to say, it lived up to it's reputation. Before race day, there was a F1 party there with free entry for house guests (yes!). The music rocked and so did the mocktails themed after the race teams. Oh by the way on the way to the hotel, I saw Bernie Eccelstone's convoy head to the race track. The race must be really important to Malaysia...Bernie had around a five car police escort with pilot bikes!

Race Day...

Take the buggy to the KLCC from where I catch a shuttle bus to the venue. While waiting, meet a fellow hotel guest who has come for business/race and while conversing get to know he is from Microsoft Redmond and is in KL to sell Microsoft's Enterprise solution to two start-ups. Have a very deep conversation around cloud computing and in the process I learned a lot about Microsoft's cloud computing offerings.

As I said earlier, I had opted to take the F1 shuttle bus to the venue. Wise decision. It dropped me straight to the ticket collection centre. If you take a taxi, it doesn't drop you at the track, plus the shuttle bus had a dedicated lane which meant we just breezed through all the car traffic. Nice arrangements! Picked up the ticket and went in.

Now more than the actual race, I would say the pre-race events are so much more exciting. 

In a nutshell, the track was all racing team booths, music, dance, special events and booth babes (aka promotional models). Each racing team had a booth of their own for their fans, inside which they showcased their race car and their commercial car models...yes, this means their were Mercs, Ferraris, Renaults and everything else. Each booth also had a unique event either from the race team or its sponsor from LG showcasing it's new 3D television, to AirAsia showcasing it's stewardesses to Mercedes having a giant screen F1 game to an Angry Birds competition to free Red Bulls (in 3 different varieties, normal, carbonated and one more). I was glad I reached two hours early. It gave me time to experience each and every race booth.

Race time. My seats were great. I had grandstand seats however I chose to buy those that gave me a view of the most exciting parts of the track and not just flag off and boy did it pay off. We were given ear plugs. To get the experience, I didn't use them for the first lap and the sound is one to hear! At first the cars don't sound loud but as they approach you, it's just a shrill sound and all you can hear is whistling in your ears. Thats it. You are completely deafened till the cars pass.

Some of the highlights I saw with my very own eyes:
  1. Lap 3: Williams’ Rubens Barrichello tyre comes off (it was announced as a puncture but the tyre completely came off).
  2. Lap 8: Webber (Red Bull) and Kobayashi (Sauber) are battling it out.
  3. Lap 12 Massa (Ferrari) and Alonso (Ferrari) are catching Button (McLaren). These 3 cars were literally sticking to each other as they passed the straight in front of me. And the best part? I was able to get a photo of the moment!
  4. Lap 14: Hamilton (McLaren) gets past Schumacher (Mercedes) and Buemi (Toro Rosso) just before the final corner with a display of thrilling straightline speed and expert racing technique.
  5. Lap 26: Sergio Perez (Sauber) has a mechanical problem and the car stops....great sight seeing track crew racing in and taking the car off track, truck coming in, yellow flags waving...it all happens in a matter of seconds. This was right in front of my eyes.
  6. Lap 53: Probably the most oh! moment of the race, Petrov (Renault) goes off the road, gives it some welly to get back on and ended up taking off over a rain gully. The car literally flew a few metres in the air, came back on track, off again and rammed into a board.
  7. A car (Force India I think) struggles to finish the final lap. Going dead slow and finally chokes out.
Apart from the above, an 'n' number of dogfights, some involving four cars at the same time. There was also another car breakdown but I cannot remember which.


Race results:

S Vettel (GER)
Red Bull
J Button (GBR)
N Heidfeld (GER)
M Webber (AUS)
Red Bull
F Massa (BRA)
F Alonso (ESP)
K Kobayashi (JPN)
LC Hamilton (GBR)
M Schumacher (GER)
 P di Resta (GBR)         Force India 1     

So when you head to watch a F1 race, pick seats that give you a view of all the action. That is the maximum curves, a good straight track in front instead of just flag off area (where you will never see any action).

Post race...the nightmare starts. A hundred thousand people move out. Gridlock on a four lane expressway! It took me 3 1/2 hours to get back (as compared to a normal 1 hour). To make it worse, the return bus had a defunct air conditioner and I was sweating profusely. A nightmare. I am just thinking that if Kuala Lumpur had such a problem with good management, how will Delhi handle the 110,000 people it boasts will be present for the F1 circuit there? Was glad to be back to the hotel. Freshened up and proceeded to SkyBar for a post F1 party.

Overall, a short but eventful stay. Would definitely recommend seeing a F1 race, just for the experience.

Back to India on Monday. Till next time!