This passed week, the Senate passed S. 2159, NASA 50th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act, by unanimous consent. The bill was held at the desk, meaning that it was not sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

The bill is similar to H.R.  2750, which was passed by the House in July, 2007. The significant different between the bills is that the House bill specifies where the coins can be minted and the Senate bill does not. Because the 50th anniversary of NASA is this year, the Senate bill specifies that the coins will be dated 2008, allows the coins to be issued through 2009, and specifies that it does not count against the maximum of two commemorative programs for 2009.

Both bills call for a high relief $50 gold coin and $1 silver coins. For the $50 coin, the obverse will bear an image of the sun and the reverse will “bear 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.” There will be a mintage limit of 50,000 gold coins and 300,000 silver coins. The US Mint would be allowed to make bronze medals based on the design of the gold coin.

For the $1 silver coins, the bill calls for nine different obverse designs representing the nine planets of the solar system, including Earth. It appears that congress is not paying attention to Pluto being voted out of the solar system. The reverses of these coins will be “be emblematic of the contributions of the research and space centers.” The bill requires the following:

  • On the Earth coin, the reverse will “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.”
  • On the Jupiter coin, the reverse will “include a scientifically accurate depiction of the Galilean moon Europa and depict both a past and future mission to Europa.”
  • For the Saturn coin, the reverse will “bear an image of the planet Saturn on the obverse shall include a scientifically accurate depiction of the moon Titan and depict both a past and a future mission to Titan.”
  • For the Pluto and Other Dwarf Plant coins, the reverse will “include 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.”

The bill also calls for images that would be selected for realism and scientific accuracy.

There will be a surcharge of $50 for the gold coin, $10 for the silver coin, and $1 for the bronze medals. The first $4 million collected will be paid to “NASA Family Assistance Fund, for the purpose of providing need-based financial assistance to the families of NASA personnel who lose their lives as a result of injuries suffered in the performance of their official duties.” The next $1 million of the money collected will be split between the Dr. Ronald E. McNair Educational (D.R.E.M.E.) Science Literacy Foundation and Challenger Center for Space Science Education. Any balance will be given to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum for their exhibits.

If done right, this program could create very interesting collectibles. I can see a set with the gold coin in the middle surrounded by the nine planet coins in a display case. Given the current cost of the metals, this set may be more expensive than most collectors can afford. In the mean time, the House and Senate have to work out the differences between the two versions.

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