'Go' For the Moon (Coins): US Mint to Strike Apollo 11 Commemoratives

apollo 11 50th anniversary coins
The U.S. Mint will strike coins to commemorate 50 years since the Apollo 11 moon landing in 2019, as directed by Congress. (Image credit: NASA/U.S. Mint via collectSPACE.com)

The United States Mint will recognize the 50th anniversary of the historic first moon landing in 2019 by striking domed coins bearing an iconic image from the Apollo 11 mission.

The Senate late on Friday (Dec. 9) passed the legislation for the new commemorative coinage, days after the House of Representatives approved the same. The bill, the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act, will now go to the White House for the President to sign into law.

The Senate's passage of the legislation was preceded by a meteoritic rise in cosponsors, rocketing from only 16 to 70 senators in the course of three days. The sudden burst of support could be partially attributed to the House's vote on Monday (Dec. 5), but it was also bolstered by members of the space community advocating for the coins, including letters sent by the surviving two Apollo 11 astronauts, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. [Apollo 11 Moon Landing Pictures]

Aldrin, together with the late Neil Armstrong, became the first men to land on the moon on July 20, 1969, as Collins remained in lunar orbit.

With the consent of the Congress and the President, the Secretary of the Treasury will direct the U.S. Mint to issue as many as 1.3 million gold, silver and clad coins, ranging in tender value from half a dollar to $5 each, in time for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 2019.

In each denomination and metal, the commemoratives will be produced such that their reverse is domed, or convex, "to more closely resemble the faceplate of [an] astronaut's helmet."

"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... showing just the visor and 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 directs.

The front of the coins will feature a design "emblematic of the [U.S.] space program leading up to the first manned moon landing," to be selected through a juried competition overseen by the Secretary of the Treasury, with advice by the Commission of Fine Arts and a review by the Citizen's Coinage Advisory Committee, which put forth the Apollo 11 theme as a suggestion in 2014.

The commemorative coins will be sold to the public, in part to cover the cost of their minting, but also to benefit three organizations:

  • the Astronaut Memorial Foundation, to continue to honor the nation's fallen space explorers;
  • the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, to continue to support college students excelling in science and technology degrees; and
  • the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, to fund its new "Destination Moon" gallery, slated to open in Washington, D.C. in 2020.

"The technology, teamwork and calculated risks the Apollo program produced to enable man to walk on the moon has impacted every aspect of life," Tammy Knowles-Sudler, the executive director of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation told collectSPACE. "Nothing in our history has had such a profound influence on our everyday life."

The U.S. Mint’s Apollo 11 50th anniversary commemorative coins will be domed, or curved, like the 2014 National Baseball Hall of Fame coins. (Image credit: U.S. Mint)

"The surcharges from the coins will allow us to continue to commemorate the legacy of the Apollo astronauts. We will be able to award a greater number of Astronaut Scholars and support them in positions that will have the optimum influence on society for positive changes," she said.

The U.S. Mint previously recognized the moon landing by using the Apollo 11 mission patch as the reverse design on the Eisenhower and Susan B. Anthony dollars issued from 1971 to 1981. The Mint also struck the 2011 New Frontier Congressional Gold Medals awarded to Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins (and the late Mercury astronaut John Glenn).

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Robert Z. Pearlman
collectSPACE.com Editor, Space.com Contributor

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.