The United States Mint is now somewhere between a "small step" and a "giant leap" closer to striking coins for the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday (Dec. 5) voted unanimously to pass the "Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act," calling for the Mint to produce curved coins in gold, silver and clad to recognize the five decades since astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins launched on the first lunar landing mission.
The bill (H.R.2726) was passed under a suspension of the rules used to quickly approve non-controversial bills. The act was first introduced by Congressman Bill Posey (R-FL) in June 2015. [NASA's Historic Apollo 11 Moon Landing in Pictures]
"Mr. Speaker, July 20, 2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of the landing of the 'Eagle' lunar module on the moon's surface," Posey, who was a member of the Apollo team in 1969, said on the House floor on Monday. " We remain the only country that has ever launched humans [to] the moon and returned them safely to Earth.
"This commemorative coin will celebrate what I feel is the most awe-inspiring engineering and technological [feat] of the 20th century," said Posey.
Joining Posey as the initial cosponsors for the bill were representatives Frederica Wilson (D-FL), John Culberson (R-TX), Gene Green (D-TX) and Rod Blum (R-IA). The bill attracted the support of 293 more cosponsors before being passed on Monday.
Should the bill pass in the Senate before the end of the year and the President sign it into law, then the U.S. Mint will be directed to strike convex coins bearing the iconic image reflected in Buzz Aldrin's helmet visor, as was taken by Neil Armstrong on the moon.
"The design on the common reverse of the coins minted under this act shall be a representation of a close-up of the famous 'Buzz Aldrin on the moon' photo taken July 20, 1969, showing just the visor and [a] part of the helmet of astronaut [Aldrin], in which the visor reflects the image of the United States flag and the lunar lander," the legislation instructs.
That design would be further highlighted by the shape of the commemoratives.
"The coins minted under this act shall be produced in a fashion... so that the reverse of the coin is convex to more closely resemble the faceplate of the astronaut's helmet of the time," the bill directs.
The act calls for the coins to be issued in four legal tender denominations:
• $5 gold coins - not more than 50,000 pieces, with a diameter of 0.85 inches (2.16 centimeters);
• $1 silver coins - not more than 400,000 pieces, with a diameter of 1.5 in. (3.8 cm);
• Half-dollar clad coins - not more than 750,000, with a diameter of 1.25 in. (3.2 cm);
• Proof-silver $1 coins - not more than 100,000, with a diameter of 3 inches (7.6 cm).
Each of the coins, regardless of metal, will feature a front (obverse) design chosen by a juried competition overseen by the Secretary of the Treasury, after consulting with the Commission of Fine Arts and being viewed by the Citizen's Coinage Advisory Committee, which suggested the Apollo 11 theme in 2014.
Proceeds from the Mint's sale of the Apollo 11 coins would benefit the Astronaut Memorial Foundation and Astronaut Scholarship Foundation's science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs, as well as the Smithsonian's "Destination Moon" gallery opening at the National Air and Space Museum in 2020.
The coins' sale would also offset the cost of their minting, such that they are produced at no cost to taxpayers.
The Mint previously recognized the moon landing by using the Apollo 11 mission's official patch as the reverse design on the Eisenhower and Susan B. Anthony dollars issued from 1971 to 1981. The Mint also struck the New Frontier Congressional Gold Medal presented to Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins (and Mercury astronaut John Glenn) in 2011.
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Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.