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House votes for Mint to make NASA coins

July 16, 2005

— The United States Mint came one step closer this week to striking a new series of gold and silver coins containing metal that flew on historic spacecraft.

The coins, to be issued in 2008, are to commemorate 50 years since the founding of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the opening of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) under space agency control.

Passed July 12 by the U.S. House of Representatives, the "NASA and JPL 50th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act" authorizes the Mint to produce a $50 gold coin with an image of the Sun and nine $1 silver coins each representing one of the nine planets in our solar system.

Further, the bill directs that NASA, JPL, the Department of Defense, the Smithsonian Institution and any other federal agency in possession of flown spacecraft deliver gold, silver, copper, and other metal samples from the vehicles to the Mint for "symbolic inclusion" during the production of the coins. The bill also seeks these federal agencies to collect like samples from privately-held craft.

The flown metal will then be blended with other metals by which all coins struck can be said to be made in part from the spacecraft.

"Minting coins is a distinctive way to honor 50 years of dedicated service by the men and women of JPL and NASA," said Representative Adam Schiff, who was a co- sponsor of the Act and who represents the district where JPL is located.

The bill calls for the $50 coin to be limited to 50,000 and contain one troy ounce of fine gold. Opposite its image of the sun on the reverse will appear "a design emblematic of the sacrifice of the United States astronauts who lost their lives in the line of duty over the course of the space program." The edge of the 1.25 inch diameter coins will be inscribed with the names and dates of the missions on which astronauts were lost.

Likewise, the nine 1.5 inch silver commemoratives will be limited to 400,000 each and contain 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper. The coins will feature on their reverse different designs that are "emblematic of discoveries and missions of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to the planet depicted on the obverse of the coin." The bill requires the artwork to be realistic and accurate, as well as sets forth specific details for four of the coins:

  • The "Earth" coin is to "bear images emblematic of, and honoring, the discoveries and missions of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Mercury, Gemini and Space Shuttle missions and other manned Earth-orbiting missions, and the Apollo missions to the Moon."

  • "Jupiter" will have "the Galilean moon Europa and depict both a past and future mission to Europa."

  • "Saturn" is to include "the moon Titan and depict both a past and a future mission to Titan."

  • "Pluto" will bear a design that is "emblematic of telescopic exploration of deep space by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the ongoing search for Earth- like planets orbiting other stars."

Final selection of the designs will be overseen by the Secretary of the Treasury in consultation with the NASA Administrator, the Director of JPL, the Commission of Fine Arts and with review by the Citizens Coin Advisory Committee.

If and when issued in 2008, the coins will be offered for sale by the U.S. Mint. The bill permits a $50 surcharge for each $50 gold coin and a $10 fee for each $1 silver.

The bill also allows for the Mint to strike and sell bronze duplicates of the gold coins at a price to be determined.

The coins may be sold separately or as a set, presented in a case that displays the gold coin surrounded by the silver coins in an elliptical orbit, as specified by the Act.

The first $1 million raised as a result of the sale of these coins will go to the NASA Family Assistance Fund for the purposes of providing need-based financial assistance to the families of NASA personnel who die as a result of injuries suffered in the performance of their official duties.

Sales exceeding that amount will go the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution to be split evenly between the preservation, maintenance, and display of space artifacts at the National Air and Space Museum, and for the establishment of a new stand-alone National Museum of Money.

Said Texas Rep. John Culberson, who introduced the Act to the House in January, "The astounding discoveries of America's first 50 years in space make it very likely that when the 100th anniversary NASA/JPL coin set is issued in 2058, we will be celebrating our first missions into interstellar space."

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