Most of us are familiar with the “butterfly effect” which explains how the tiniest of actions can have profound impacts on everything. One of the best examples of the butterfly effect would be Ron Miller’s Pluto stamp.
On October 1 1991, The Postal Service issued ten Space Exploration commemorative stamps in Pasadena, CA. The designer of the stamps was Ron Miller, of Fredericksburg, VA. The ten stamps featured the nine planets and the Earth’s Moon, along with the unmanned spacecraft that had visited each of them, except Pluto. The farthest planet was always given the last preference when it came to deciding which planet was to be explored. Interestingly, Voyager 1 could have visited Pluto but that plan was scrapped in favor of exploring Saturn’s moon, Titan. There was one little line on Pluto’s stamp that irked countless space scientists, which immediately compelled them to plan a mission to Pluto. The line was “Pluto – Not Yet Explored“. One single line from Ron Miller’s mind sparked the foundations of a mission known to us today as New Horizons. The stamp was attached to the New Horizons spacecraft as a “thank you” of sorts. The ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto, were also kept on board.
The most amazing fact is, even though a lot of scientists and astronomers had tried to get a mission to Pluto off the ground, none of their efforts materialized into a mission but all it took, in the end, was an unintended taunt printed on a stamp to get us to Pluto. As of today, the stamp is billions of miles away from Earth, racing towards the Kuiper belt and it will go beyond for countless years into the unknown depths of outer space.
UPDATE (20/7/2016) : This stamp has earned the GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS achievement for the farthest distance travelled by a postage stamp !
I lack the stature to summarise a man as talented as Mr. Miller. The best word to describe him would be “polymath”. He is an illustrator, author and a member of various prestigious societies around the globe. He has received several awards during his life for his artwork and books. His list of achievements, books and memberships is too long to mention in this blog post, hence I’ve provided a few collapsed lists and links where you can read more about him.
I asked Mr. Miller a few questions via Facebook, as follows :
After all these years, Principal Investigator of the New Horizons mission, can be seen holding the “updated” stamp :