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Space post office postmarks letters from orbit

China's new Space Post Office offers a direct digital link to the postal beyond.

China's Space Post Office isn't quite in orbit, but your mail can be.

China's main Space Post Office is actually on the ground in Beijing, but they're happy to route letters through the galaxy's only true "satellite" branch in orbit so you can bag a one-of-a-kind postmark.

Yes, thanks to cuts to NASA's funding, it seems the Chinese have now rocketed ahead of us in the postal space gimmick department. The idea is for space nuts to send e-mails to a computer aboard the Chinese spacecraft Tiangong-1, currently in orbit, which routes the message back to the main Space Post Office to be printed out, stuffed into a commemorative envelope with a special postmark, and sent on to its addressee.

The orbital philatelic experiment is meant to boost business for China's postal service, which has been suffering as people move online. Makes you wonder why the U.S. Postal Service didn't set up shop at Cape Canaveral years ago.

China's Space Post Office is in a secretive part of the capital known as Aerospace City, the center of China's space program. It opened last month with a direct connection to space, a "virtual" branch on the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft 343 kilometers above Earth.

"Any parcels which go on China's spacecraft will be sent from here," a Space Post Office clerk told CNET sister site SmartPlanet, adding that they weren't quite ready to offer space mail service to the public. "We can send mail anywhere in the world but not into space."

I'm sure that on the first day such a service is offered, we'll see plenty of iPhones and iPads shipped into space for no good reason. In the meantime, China's Space Post Office is happy to sell you plenty of souvenirs, sell stamps to the occasional astronaut, or e-mail your wedding vows to space.

It may be all gimmickery to some, but to me, it's one solid step closer to being able to actually get a love letter to Commander Deanna Troi.