A Life from Airship Flights to The Space Shuttle:
Many years ago Max Kronstein (1895-1992) cast his stamp collecting fate to the adventure of air and space travel as it relates to philately. He was the grand old man of rocket mail and astrophilately, an important member of the American Air Mail Society for many years.
Rocket Mail Authority:
His book Rocket Mail Flight of the World to 1986 remains the pre-eminent authority on early rocket mail from pioneer flights through the flights of the 1980s. He stayed active in the area almost up to the day he passed away at the age of 97 in 1992.
Little known in the worlds of aerophilately and astrophilately was that he would create his own simple covers, with homemade cachets and applicable stamps to note space events and anniversaries of the launch of great rockets, like the Titan, as well as smaller experimental pioneer flights like the first international rocket flight Mexico-US McAllen flight of 1936.
Personal History Wrapped Up in Philatelic Flight
In this way Kronstein took the universal history of rocket mail and made it part of his own personal history, as wrapped up in aerophilately and astrophilately as it was. Kronstein was inducted into the American Air Mail Society Hall of Fame in 1990. According to the AAMS, the recognition "honors those who have contributed significantly to the accumulation of aerophilatelic knowledge, to interest and participation in aerophilately or rendered outstanding service to national or international organized aerophilately." Those who collect airmail and exhibit the area do well, when they exhibit their airmail or rocket mail collections, to add a Kronstein cover to their exhibit to add human interest and a bit of spice to their presentation.
In terms of U.S. rocket and space mail Kronstein lived to see mail carried on the Space Shuttle in 1983. And he was there at the beginning when Willy Ley was carrying out experimental pioneer flights like the one carried out in Greenwood Lake, NY in 1937.
The U.S. Postmaster General was a Fan of Rocket Mail
Although mail never came to be carried by rocket on a regular basis it was not as impractical as might be thought: Postmaster Summerfield had an interest in the area and investigated the area. The only USPS authorized rocket flight to deliver mail occurred in 1959 with a launching from the submarine USS Barbero, produced philatelic items that are much sought after today.
At the time, Summerfield basked in the historic aura of the flight, which delivered 3,000 commemorative covers from it's position off the Florida coast to the Naval Auxiliary Air Station, to Mayport Florida. He said he believed 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."
Air and Space Mail Was Kronstein's Vision
Kronstein would be fascinated to see the point space mail has reached today, with China instituting a space post office and offering a contest where young people aged 12 to 17 are encouraged to design a stamp that will appear on mail sent to Mars. Kronstein did not live to see the 1997 Mars Pathfinder Rover souvenir sheet issued by the USPS, although he surely would have been excited to see how far the space program had come.
Those who collect airmail find that it is not a great leap from collecting mail carried on airplanes to that which is carried on space flights or is commemorative mail noting launches, landings and other events surrounding space flight. The Shuttle flights alone offer a rich area, including every area from NASA test flight, rollouts, tracking - including worldwide covers from tracking stations - to splashdowns.
Those stamp collectors who wish to follow in the footsteps of Kronstein might consider collecting both U.S. and Russian stamps and covers: when President Kennedy proclaimed the U.S.'s serious intentions to win the space race, he not only triggered a rush of technological progress, but also issues of manned space flight stamps that have kept stamp collectors interested and busy for half a century.