TheHouse of Representatives voted this week to authorize the U.S. Mint to strikecoins in 2008 honoring the 50th anniversary of NASA.
Introducedby Texas Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee and John Culberson, the bill marksthe fourth time in just as many years that the legislation has been raised inthe Congress and the second time it has been passed by the House.
Thislatest version of the bill (H.R. 2750) repeats many of the provisions made byearlier efforts, but omits a detail that would have distinguished the coinsfrom any of those minted in the history of the United States.
The"NASA 50th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act" calls for the Mint toproduce 50,000 $50 gold coins and 300,000 $1 silver coins that "shall beemblematic of the 50 years of exemplary and unparalleled achievements of theNational Aeronautics and Space Administration." The $50 coin, as specifiedby the bill, would bear an image of the Sun and a design honoring theastronauts who lost their lives in duty, while the nine $1 coins will depictthe planets of the solar system along with designs on their reverse symbolizingthe contributions of NASA's research and its space centers.
The bill specifically requires the theme of four ofthe nine silver coins. The "Earth" coin would depict "theMercury, Gemini and Space Shuttle missions and other manned Earth-orbitingmissions, and the Apollo missions to the Moon." The images on the"Jupiter" coin need to include "both a past and future missionto Europa" as well as a "scientifically accurate depiction of theGalilean moon." Likewise, the commemorative for Saturn is to honor pastand future missions to one of its moons, Titan. The last coin in the set, forPluto "and other dwarf planets" would include a design"emblematic of telescopic exploration of deep space."
"Thiscommemorative coin set is one small piece of the ongoing work that Congress isdoing in support of NASA. I am proud to honor the men and women of NASA and theextraordinary discoveries they are making," said Rep. Culberson on the passage of the billby the House.
Thebill further calls for proceeds from the public sale of the coins to go toorganizations that encourage science literacy, preserve space history, and thatprovide for the families of fallen NASA personnel. The $50 gold coins are tocarry a surcharge of $50 each and the silver $1 coins carry a $10 surcharge,per the bill's provisions. The first $4 million raised is to go to the NASAFamily Assistance Fund; the next $1 million would be evenly split between theDorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence and the Dr. Ronald E. McNairEducational (D.R.E.M.E.) Science Literacy Foundation; and all remaining fundsare to go the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.
Thebill directs that each 32.7 mm-diameter $50 coin contain one troy ounce of goldand each 1.5-inch $1 coin be made from 90% silver and 10% copper metal. Earlierversions of the Act however, had proposed a less pure but more uniquecomposition.
Thepreviouslegislation that passed the House in 2005 included wording such that thecoins would be minted in part from metal flown on historic spacecraft. Had thebill become law two years ago, NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, theDepartment of Defense, the Smithsonian Institution and any other federal agencyin possession of flown spacecraft would have been required to deliver gold,silver, copper and other metal samples from the vehicles to the Mint for"symbolic inclusion" during the production of the coins.
Arelease issued by Culberson commenting on the bill's passage did not say whythe flown metal was removed from the 2007 version of the Act. Also excluded wasa provision for the gold coins' edge to be inscribed with the names and datesof the missions on which astronauts gave their lives.
Acorresponding Act has yet to be raised in the Senate. The House, which voted onJuly 30 under a suspension of the rules to cut debate short, passed the bill402 to 0.
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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.