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Mercury astronaut and mission to Mercury featured on new U.S. stamps

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Fifty years after becoming the first U.S. astronaut to fly into space, the late Alan B. Shepard, Jr. was remembered Wednesday with the release of a stamp in his honor. The commemorative postage, which the U.S. Postal Service issued together with another stamp for the first spacecraft to orbit the planet Mercury, is the first ever to show a specific astronaut.

The stamps were formally introduced during a First Day of Issue ceremony held at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. USPS and NASA officials were joined by Shepard's three daughters and his fellow Original Mercury 7 astronaut Scott Carpenter at the event, which took place in the shadow of a replica of the 80-foot rocket that Shepard rode into space on May 5, 1961.

The stamp's design, which the USPS first previewed last November, shows Shepard centered between images of his Mercury-Redstone 3 rocket lifting off and his Freedom 7 capsule above the Earth.

Opposite the astronaut's portrait on an adjoining stamp is an artist's rendition of NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft, which in March became the first to enter orbit around the planet Mercury.

"They are joined by more than just a name," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, referring to the two stamps' Mercury theme. "They embody the spirit of innovation and doing big things for which NASA has always been known."

The two stamps are the first space-themed releases to be offered by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) in more than a decade. The Shepard stamp also marks the first time the U.S. has honored an astronaut with his own postage.

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