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Published April 12, 2023 Updated April 12, 2023

Into space and back

A NASA experiment to test a new inflammable material for playing cards.

1971 USA United States Playing Card Co. Bicycle NASA Space Add to Collection

I have carefully looked after and preserved this precious single card since being given it many years ago by a fellow collector. The story behind it is an interesting one. In 1971, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) decided that they wanted to offer crew members on long duration space missions playing cards which would be safe in the 100% oxygen atmosphere of a spacecraft cabin. Playing cards, by nature, may be harmless, but not in space because, in a pure oxygen environment, flammable materials such as paper cards could intensify a fire. NASA therefore commissioned a pack (or packs) to be printed on fireproof paper.

The design on the back features the NASA symbol in the centre against the background of the familiar ‘Bicycle’ design. The face of this card is blank.

NASA playing card

Above: a single playing card made by USPC Co., Cincinnati, USA, 1971.

Did this card actually make it into space? I don’t know. Was the experiment a success? I don’t know. Was more than one pack produced? I don’t know. Have card games been played on board the International Space Station? I don’t know.

Any additional information about this card/pack would be very welcome.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Some of the information contained in this article was sourced from a recent publication called “52 Years of Play” celebrating 52 years since the creation of Cartamundi (1970-2022).

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By Roddy Somerville

Member since May 31, 2022

Roddy started collecting stamps on his 8th birthday. In 1977 he joined the newly formed playing-card department at Stanley Gibbons in London before setting up his own business in Edinburgh four years later. His collecting interests include playing cards, postcards, stamps (especially playing cards on stamps) and sugar wrappers. He is a Past President of the Scottish Philatelic Society, a former Chairman of the IPCS, a Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards and Curator of the WCMPC’s collection of playing cards. He lives near Toulouse in France.


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