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Sat Jun 8, 2019, 07:59 AM

60 Years Ago Today: Rocket Mail! (or how I learned to stop worrying and love the mail)


USS Barbero first day commemorative cover. The return address is the Postmaster General.

Rocket mail is the delivery of mail by rocket or missile. The rocket lands by deploying an internal parachute upon arrival. It has been attempted by various organizations in many different countries, with varying levels of success. It has never become widely seen as being a viable option for delivering mail, due to the cost of the schemes and numerous failures.

The collection of philatelic material ("stamps" ) used for (and depicting) rocket mail is part of a specialist branch of aerophilately known as astrophilately.


United States
One of the first successful deliveries of mail by a rocket in the United States was made on 23 February 1936, when two rocket airplanes that were launched from the New York side of the frozen Greenwood Lake landed on the New Jersey side, less than 100 yards away. This event was preceded by several other successful rocket mail experiments in the early 1930s.

During the mid-1950s, "amateur" rocketeers flew a number of zinc dust / sulfur "micrograin" solid propellant mail-carrying rockets interstate, from California, across the Colorado River, and into Arizona. The postal covers were printed for each occasion, and franked at the nearest destination post office.

In 1959 the U.S. Navy submarine USS Barbero assisted the Post Office Department, predecessor to the United States Postal Service (USPS), in its search for faster mail transportation, with the only delivery of "Missile Mail". On 8 June 1959, Barbero fired a Regulus cruise missile its nuclear warhead having earlier been replaced by two Post Office Department mail containers targeted at the Naval Auxiliary Air Station at Naval Station Mayport in Florida. The Regulus cruise missile was launched with a pair of Aerojet-General 3KS-33,000 [3 sec duration, 33,000 lbf (150 kN) thrust] solid-propellant boosters. A turbojet engine sustained the long-range cruise flight after the boosters were dropped. Twenty-two minutes after launch, the missile struck its target.

The USPS had officially established a branch post office on Barbero and delivered some 3000 pieces of mail to it before Barbero left Norfolk, Virginia. The mail consisted entirely of commemorative postal covers addressed to President of the United States Dwight Eisenhower, other government officials, the Postmasters General of all members of the Universal Postal Union, and so on, from United States Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield. Their postage (four cents domestic, eight cents international) had been cancelled "USS Barbero Jun 8 9.30am 1959" before the submarine put to sea. At Mayport, the Regulus missile was opened and the mail forwarded to the post office in Jacksonville, Florida, for sorting and routing.

Upon witnessing the missile's landing, Summerfield stated, "This peacetime employment of a guided missile for the important and practical purpose of carrying mail, is the first known official use of missiles by any Post Office Department of any nation." Summerfield proclaimed the event to be "of historic significance to the peoples of the entire world", and predicted that "before man reaches the moon, mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India or Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail."

Despite the Postmaster General's enthusiasm, the Department of Defense saw the measure more as a demonstration of U.S. missile capabilities. Experts believe that the cost of using missile mail could never be justified. While during the 1920s a letter between Europe and the United States would not arrive for at least a week after mailing, by the 1950s air mail crossed the Atlantic Ocean in as little as one day.

One of the mail containers which was on board the Regulus missile fired by Barbero is in the collection of the United States Submarine Force Museum in Groton, Connecticut.


The Postman Only Rings Once...

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Reply 60 Years Ago Today: Rocket Mail! (or how I learned to stop worrying and love the mail) (Original post)
Dennis Donovan Jun 8 OP
Blue_Tires Jun 8 #1
Dennis Donovan Jun 8 #2

Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Sat Jun 8, 2019, 03:45 PM

1. Bloody brilliant...

And all these millennials wanna pretend that Amazon is somehow re-inventing the wheel...

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Response to Blue_Tires (Reply #1)

Sat Jun 8, 2019, 10:21 PM

2. If Amazon starts chucking rockets at my house...

...I'm cancelling Prime!

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