USAF & Pitcairn Joint Satellite Recovery Survey Mission

       7 July 2000              $5.00 (2x $2.50 on sheetlet)                           Mint and CTO sheetlet                $5.00
                                                                                                             FDC                                           $6.00  

 Technical Details

Release Date:             7 July 2000
Denominations:           $5.00 (2x $2.50 stamps on sheetlet)
Designer:                    Dave Gunson, NZ
Printer:                       Southern Colour Print, Dunedin NZ
Process:                     Litho offset
Paper:                        PVA gummed 110 gsm
Stamp Size:                35mm x 40mm within sheetlet
Minisheet size:            90mm x 120mm horizontal
Mint and CTO:           $5.00
First Day Cover:         $6.00

The sheetlet to celebrate the Pitcairn and United States Air Force Joint Satellite Recovery Survey Mission to Henderson Island is released on 7 July to mark the opening of the World Stamp Expo at Anaheim, Los Angeles where we will be operating a booth.  The Expo is centred on the theme of Space Exploration and Travel, a topic, which has some significance to Pitcairn.  Initially we intended taking a Millennium Part III stamp and developing it into a sheetlet for the exhibition, which is why both of these issue have the same date of issue.

It was Garth Harraway, Pitcairn’s former Commissioner who prompted us to search the archives for reference material on the 1966 survey conducted by the United States Air Force.   Dusting off the archived files, we found one marked ‘Secret’.  The file contained a report which described the purpose of the mission.  The US Satellite Launching site was moved from Florida to Vandenburg airbase, just north of Los Angeles, from which satellites could be launched on a trajectory to directly cross the South Pole, without over-flying any landmass.  The Pitcairn Islands lie within a few hundred miles of the crucial point at which any launch may fail when a satellite would attempt to break through the earth’s atmosphere.  Uninhabited Henderson Island was identified as an ideal site for an airbase whose function would be the recovery of satellite “whether manned or not”.

The survey was completed and by personnel of the United States Air Force with assistance from the Pitcairn Islanders.  The USNS Sunnyvale a satellite recovery vessel, was the mission support vessel.  Although the survey was completed and plans drawn, the proposed airstrip failed to gain support at a higher level and the project was abandoned.

The ‘Secret’ file revealed a map showing the plans for the airfield and an album of black and white photographs of the survey team in action with some tremendous aerial shots of the unusual coral pinnacles, a distinctive feature of the Henderson Island landscape.  The map is reproduced on the First Day Cover of this issue and the photographs provided the artist with a wonderful reference for his design.

In 1988, Henderson Island was declared a World Heritage Site.  Today it is visited by just a few cruise vessels and yachts and the Pitcairners still make regular visits to collect Miro wood to carve into souvenirs which are sold to tourists.

Another feature of the sheetlet, is the Inmarsat satellite.  It is through this satellite that Pitcairner communicate by voice or fax.  Inmarsat A and Inmarsat M communications systems are both used on Pitcairn today.