The recent explosion of an Indian built rocket bearing an Indian built satellite has brought India’s space program to the attention of the worlds press, but the history of rockets in India goes back further than you may think.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was first set up in 1969. The first Indian built satellite was launched by Russia in 1975, the first Indian built rocket (or rather, Launch Vehicle) was used in 1980 and in 2008 the first Indian moon mission was successfully completed.
A manned space mission is scheduled for 2016.
But Philatelists can go much further back in time to trace the beginnings of India’s love affair with the rocket, and flown mail in general.
In fact India can lay claim to having hosted the world’s first official aeroplane mail flight which occurred on 18th February 1911 when a French Pilot, Henri Pequet flew about 5 miles from Allahabad to Naini with around 6500 pieces of mail.
However, more than 20 years later India took another leap forward, the following is an extract from the “Star of India” of 6th October 1934.
“Will the Rocket post beat air mails, the telephone, and even the wireless? Sending mail by rockets is the latest speed bid of science and India is ahead of most countries of the world in testing out the rocket system of delivering mails, experiments having been carried out not many miles out of Calcutta in this direction this week.”
India was not quite first; the Austrian inventor Ingle Frederick Schmid fired a rocket, which carried 102 pieces of mail from Schoeckel to Rodegund in February 1931. This incredible news from Europe inspired Stephen Hector Smith of India to experiment with rockets himself and on 30th September 1934 he successfully flew 140 covers from shore (Saugor Is) to ship. These covers, and their rocket mail stamps (or “vignettes”) although issued in very low quantities by modern standards helped fund Mr Smiths experiments until the final flight of the so-called ‘War Rocket “Dimapur” on 4th December 1944.
This first flight could not be further removed from India’s current space program, the person selected to ignite this rocket suffered an attack of nerves and refused the dubious honour, finally he was coaxed to apply the ignited firing rod running back to the group of onlookers without a second glance. The rocket fell short of the intended target, a survey vessel (one wonders what damage might have been done had the projectile found its mark) and had to be recovered by a small coastal boat prepared for the eventuality. A single line cachet was prepared but only the first cover was handstamped as it slipped from its handle and couldn’t be stuck on again. The head official of the island insisted on signing each item in pencil whilst using his knee as a table!
Each flight has it’s own charming story. No satellites launched, but food, medicine & on one memorable occasion a hen & cockerel! Please take a look at the following 12 lots in our current sale, from rocket flights undertaken by Stephen Smith between 1935 and 1937, few were flown & even fewer survive! We also include a seldom-seen collection of the stamps themselves Lot 6641.