The National Aeronautic and Space Administration celebrates its golden 50th anniversary in 2008, and if Congress has its way there will be a 10-coin commemorative package that will lead the way in remembering the astronauts, as well as those involved in exploring the final frontier.
On July 30, legislation easily passed the House of Representatives to accomplish this precisely, and on Aug. 3 the matter moved over to the Senate where its consideration started by referring it to the Senate Banking Committee.
Ironically, in April 1985, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Jake Garn, flew in space as a payload specialist aboard space shuttle Discovery. He said he never forgot that it was built according to government specifications by the low bidder.
Mandated by the legislation is a thematic design: "The obverse of the $1 coins issued under this act shall bear nine different designs, each of which shall consist of an image of one of the nine planets of the solar system, including Earth." The planets it lists include Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, this last called a "dwarf planet" in the bill but recently rejected as such by scientists. It was discovered by radio telescope in 1930.
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 U.S. astronauts who lost their lives in the line of duty over the course of the space program.
In addition, the bill says, "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 with the nine silver dollars. 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.
Simply a point of contrast, the gold American Buffalo one ounce as a proof with an overall maximum mintage of 200,000 -- is $826. Presumably, the NASA issue could cost more, ratably, but there is also the factor of several silver dollar coins (proofs and uncirculated) together with the minimum that could come from them (figure $36 to $40 each).
A surcharge is being applied of $50 for each gold coin and $10 for each silver dollar sold. The first $4 million available for distribution under this section is to 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.
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 coin authorized under this act, at a price he determines to be appropriate. Such duplicates, according to the act, are not considered to be U.S. coins and shall not be legal tender.
Approval by the Senate and President Bush is required before the measure can become law.