While many non-collectors think that stamp collectors get into the hobby to get away from the world, to barricade themselves in their stamp caves, nothing could be further from the truth.
Although stamp collecting is considered a conservative and even a retro hobby, stamp collectors like to monitor progress like anyone. It doesn't take much for collectors to note milestones in art and science and they'll do so without much prodding, as seen in many event covers.
Stamps have a very strong propaganda aspect - if you want someone to come to your cause, or note your concerns, having them on a stamp that travels the world and is seen again and again is an extremely effective medium.
Semi-postals, aka charity stamps, have been around since the late 1800's and these stamps directly contribute to the welfare, rehabilitation and support of various elements of the human family. This is done by a surcharge on the stamp, the funds ultimately going to the group or cause which the stamp represents.
Stamps to Support Space Exploration
Creating awareness is what social media is all about - combine that idea with stamps and there is a great potential for support of new ideas and projects. The space programs in Russia and America both benefited from stamps presenting space exploration in a positive light.
An early experiment with space communication on stamps include the Echo satellite featured on a stamp two years before the John Glenn/Mercury stamp. Echo was basically a big metal balloon which transmitted messages from the earth to the satellite and back again. While at the first day of issue ceremony in 1960 Postmaster Sonnenfeld spoke of the great promise of peaceful communications offered by the new technology, another use went unmentioned.
It turns out that Echo was also good for precisely mapping the location of Moscow, the better for the military to program their missiles. Ironically the words on the stamp are Communications For Peace; its first day cancel including the words World-Wide Communications Through Space.
Philately in War
Collectors learn as they go - those who investigate the world of cover collecting can find that covers were created for various situations out of necessity and to foster survival. The Paris balloon post covers are a prime example of this - covers made of special light weight paper, the first aerograms - helped a Paris held prisoner by the German army in 1870 communicate with the world via mail delivered by manned balloons.
Of course, war fosters progress in a number of areas, communication being one of them. WWII saw the introduction of Airgrams - photographically reduced letters that saved space in airplanes. Microfilm carried by pigeons was an earlier example of the miniaturization of postal emissions.
Not all progress has succeeded, although for many accomplishments mail and collector covers have been present. The zeppelins of the 20s and 30s were massively popular with collectors who filled mail bags and helped finance the aerial behemoth's flights with their covers. Unfortunately, zeppelin flight was largely done by the 40s, thanks to repeated crashes and accidents.
But these giant airships' memories are kept alive by postal administrations that still issue commemorative stamps for the most important of them, as well as cover makers who note the fascinating era of lighter than air flight with their cachets and postmarks.
Stamps and Progress
A casual census of stamps featuring the word or idea progress include women's progress, postal progress, progress in electronics, 1933's World's Fair Century of Progress, aviation, transportation, medicine - the list is a long one. Its clear that if anyone wanted to put together a topical collection based on the idea of progress, he would have something to keep him busy for the rest of his life.