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Congress puts planets on commemoratives

capitol.jpgNine silver dollars and a gold one-ounce $50 coin are called for in legislation seeking to honor the golden anniversary of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, known universally by its NASA initials.

There are two measures that originated in different houses of Congress. Senate Bill 2159 passed with amendments on June 19, while another measure, H.R. 250, passed the House last year.

Both measures would significantly expand the realm of intergalactic coinage, and incidentally modern commemoratives, with the first $50 commemorative coin since the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915 and the giant slugs it wrought. The Senate measure expressly overrules the ?only two commemorative programs a year? provision of the U.S. code, calling for orders in 2008 and production between now and the end of 2009.

Both measures call for silver dollars for planetary discovery; the Senate measure calls for a $50 one-ounce gold piece to have a design emblematic of the sun and for the silver dollars ? there are nine of them called for, one for each planet in our solar system ? the obverse will be common, the reverse will change.

?The obverse of the $1 coins issued under this Act shall bear 9 different designs, each of which shall consist of an image of 1 of the 9 planets of the solar system, including Earth,? it says. The reverse designs shall be several and different, ?each of which shall be emblematic of the contributions of the research and space centers, subject to the following requirements.?

There will be special treatment for Earth, Jupiter, Saturn as well as Pluto (and other dwarf planets). The Senate amendments were brought to the floor by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., chair of the Senate Banking Committee.

Dodd?s amendment listed as its purpose, ?To extend the period during which the coins may be minted and issued),? and allows the secretary of the Treasury to ?accept orders for the coins authorized under this Act during the period beginning on Jan. 1, 2008, and ending on Dec. 31, 2008.?

 It goes on to allow the Treasury chief, and by extension the Mint, to strike the coins ?and issue such coins required to fulfill such orders during the period beginning on Jan. 1, 2008, and ending on Dec. 31, 2009.?

Besides the silver dollars, of which 300,000 are to be issued of each design (total 3 million pieces, maximum), there?s a call for a gold $50 coin (50,000 mintage maximum) that would weigh one ounce and have the same specifications as the one-ounce bullion gold coin. Design is specified: the obverse of the $50 coins issued bears an image of the sun. The reverse of the $50 coin shall 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.

In addition, the bill says that ?The design and inscriptions on the obverse and reverse of the $50 coins issued under this Act shall be in high relief,? and declares that the $50 coin if authorized will only be available as part of a set of nine single dollars, a Hobson?s choice.  One estimate is that the cost of the complete set would be around $1,600-$1,900 ? though the Mint says its premature to price.

Typical of the times, a surcharge is being applied of $50 for the gold coin and $10 for the silver dollars. The first $4 million available for distribution under this section, 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.

The balance of funding, if any, then goes to the NASA Family Assistance Fund, the Dr. Ronald E. McNair Educational Science Literacy Foundation, the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, and the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution .

Another novelty: the Treasury secretary may strike and sell bronze duplicates of the $50 gold coins authorized under this Act, at a price he determines to be appropriate. Such duplicates according to the act, are not considered to be United States coins and shall not be legal tender.   This is similar to the First Lady bronze medallions that nearly duplicate the gold coin design.

The House and Senate versions must now be reconciled before an agreed version can be sent to the White House for presidential signature.

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