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House approves NASA anniversary coins

August 4, 2007

— The House of Representatives voted this week to authorize the U.S. Mint to strike coins in 2008 honoring the 50th anniversary of NASA. Introduced by Texas Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee and John Culberson, the bill marks the fourth time in just as many years that the legislation has been raised in the Congress and the second time it has been passed by the House.

This latest version of the bill (H.R. 2750) repeats many of the provisions made by earlier efforts, but omits a detail that would have distinguished the coins from any of those minted in the history of the United States.

The "NASA 50th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act" calls for the Mint to produce 50,000 $50 gold coins and 300,000 $1 silver coins that "shall be emblematic of the 50 years of exemplary and unparalleled achievements of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration." The $50 coin, as specified by the bill, would bear an image of the Sun and a design honoring the astronauts who lost their lives in duty, while the nine $1 coins will depict the planets of the solar system along with designs on their reverse symbolizing the contributions of NASA's research and its space centers.

The bill specifically requires the theme of four of the nine silver coins. The "Earth" coin would depict "the Mercury, Gemini and Space Shuttle missions and other manned Earth-orbiting missions, and the Apollo missions to the Moon." The images on the "Jupiter" coin need to include "both a past and future mission to Europa" as well as a "scientifically accurate depiction of the Galilean moon." Likewise, the commemorative for Saturn is to honor past and future missions to one of its moons, Titan. The last coin in the set, for Pluto "and other dwarf planets" would include a design "emblematic of telescopic exploration of deep space."

"This commemorative coin set is one small piece of the ongoing work that Congress is doing in support of NASA. I am proud to honor the men and women of NASA and the extraordinary discoveries they are making," said Rep. Culberson on the passage of the bill by the House.

The bill further calls for proceeds from the public sale of the coins to go to organizations that encourage science literacy, preserve space history, and that provide for the families of fallen NASA personnel. The $50 gold coins are to carry a surcharge of $50 each and the silver $1 coins carry a $10 surcharge, in addition to a fee to cover the Mint's cost of the raw materials and their issue. The first $4 million raised is to go to the NASA Family Assistance Fund; the next $1 million would be evenly split between the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence and the Dr. Ronald E. McNair Educational (D.R.E.M.E.) Science Literacy Foundation; and all remaining funds are to go the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

The bill directs that each 32.7 mm-diameter $50 coin contain one troy ounce of gold and each 1.5-inch $1 coin be made from 90% silver and 10% copper metal. Earlier versions of the Act however, had proposed a less pure but more unique composition.

The previous legislation that passed the House in 2005 included wording such that the coins would be minted in part from metal flown on historic spacecraft. Had the bill become law two years ago, NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Department of Defense, the Smithsonian Institution and any other federal agency in 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.

A release issued by Culberson commenting on the bill's passage did not say why the flown metal was removed from the 2007 version of the Act. Also excluded was a provision for the gold coins' edge to be inscribed with the names and dates of the missions on which astronauts gave their lives.

A corresponding Act has yet to be raised in the Senate. The House, which voted on July 30 under a suspension of the rules to cut debate short, passed the bill 402 to 0.

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