China opens first 'space post office'

China opens first 'space post office'

Soon you can get a real postcard from the edge
China space office
A new task for Chinese astronauts -- collecting and chopping mail?

In this era of Facebook, email, Twitter and other social media, getting a postcard from someone's travels has a certain appeal.

China's mail service looks to be taking that tourist postcard to a whole new level.

To celebrate Thursday's docking of the Shenzhou-8 unmanned spacecraft with space lab module Tiangong-1, China's post authority has opened a new branch office outside the country and out of this world -- 343 kilometers above the Earth, to be exact.

Opening for business on the same day, the China Post Space Office has two venues -- one on-the-ground base inside the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center (BACCC) and one "virtual office" aboard the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft.

There is also a new designated post code -- 901001.

China Post Group’s general manager Li Guohua told China Daily the post office will be able to deliver mail from the public to astronauts in future.

The office will also issue postal souvenirs, such as stamps and envelopes that depict China's major space program events.

We weren't exactly sure what a virtual space post office was or how it all worked, so we made some calls. We left the 'why send mail to space when you can email or Skype chat' question for another day.

According to staff at the BACCC post office (which houses the worldly version of the space post office) the new branch handles normal postal as well as courier services.

All mail going through the BACCC office will be chopped with a special postmark showing the date in numerals, and “Beijing” and “Space” in simplified Chinese.

Philatelic fans can also send a letter to themselves to obtain the postmark by providing an extra envelope with sufficient return stamps (RMB 0.8 from Beijing, RMB 1.2 from other Chinese cities) and an address.

Beijing News reported Shenzhou-8 had in its payload three postcards to space this trip.

According to the report, it is possible the Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft, expected to launch in 2012, will take stamps and letters from the public into the final frontier.

And what sort of mail might be carried?

“For example, [people] can send us their wedding photos or vows to travel to space with the spacecraft. After [the spacecraft] brings them back, the space post office will mail them back to the owners on the agreed date,” an anonymous manager at Beijing Haidian post office told Beijing News.

The authority is yet to announce the price for mailing to space.

China Post Space Office is affiliated to China Post Group, and is headed by Yang Liwei (杨利伟), the country's first space-traveling astronaut.

More on CNNGo: 

Want to mail China’s space office? This is what to put on your envelope:

China Post Space Office
Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center
Haidian District, 901001
Beijing, China

To obtain a space postmark in person for your mail, head to this address: Courtyard 1, Yongfeng Xiangxin Dian, Daidian District, Beijing 北京海淀区永丰乡辛店1号院, +86 10 6874 6825, 9:30 a.m.- 12 p.m., 2 p.m.- 4 p.m. 

China Post Space Office charges RMB 1 on top of postage for issuing one space postmark.