That’s some small pocket change for mankind.
The U.S. Mint, which manufactures the nation’s legal coinage, has unveiled its commemorative designs for coins that celebrate the 50th anniversary of NASA’s inspirational July 1969 Apollo 11 mission that succeeded in landing the first people on the Moon.
The four commemorative coins that could soon be clinking in your pocket include a $5 gold, $1 silver, half dollar clad, and 5-ounce silver proof coin. All are etched with images and words that evoke Apollo 11 and the culmination of that mission as “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The coins, which will go on sale in January 2019, feature on the obverse side an image of a footprint on the lunar surface and inscriptions that recognize NASA’s Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs that led up to the first Moon landing. The reverse side shows the visor and part of the helmet of astronaut Buzz Aldrin; the helmet’s reflection portrays astronaut Neil Armstrong, the lunar lander, and the American flag.
Evoking and Honoring the Apollo Legacy
The coin design’s unveiling “kicks off the national celebration of the Apollo anniversaries,” said Ellen Stofan, director of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, which hosted an 11 October event to announce the design in Washington, D. C. That date was the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 7, which was the first successful crewed Apollo space mission.
The coins, she said, are “a wonderful way to remember the concerted national effort behind the amazing accomplishment, but also a stepping off point to think about what’s next.”
“We honor the legacy of Apollo with a great celebration of the 50-year anniversary of Apollo, but I think we also honor Apollo by going further,” said NASA deputy chief of staff Gabriel Sherman, speaking at the event. “Where we want to go is to Mars, and there is no better proving ground for an eventual journey to Mars than right there on the Moon.”
On hand, too, was Apollo 7 pilot Walter Cunningham, who said that “space is now part of the American character, maybe one of the best parts. Pushing boundaries and embracing exploration is a part of our human spirit. Let us hope that the desire to explore will remain a permanent fixture in the history of America and the world.”
Cunningham recalled his mission and President John Kennedy’s pledge to land an American on the Moon by the end of the 1960s. “We didn’t know everything to expect,” Cunningham said, “but we knew that we didn’t have much time left if we were going to beat the Russians to the Moon by the end of that decade.”
Hoping That the Coins Sell Out
Proceeds from the sale of these coins will support the Air and Space Museum’s Destination Moon exhibit, the Astronauts Memorial Foundation, and the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. David Ryder, director of the U.S. Mint, said that if the commemorative coin program sells out, it could raise millions of dollars for those programs. “I’m all over that [goal]. I’m going to do whatever I have to do to make sure that happens,” he said.
Congress authorized the commemorative coin program in bipartisan legislation that the House and Senate approved by voice vote before it was signed into law in December 2016. Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.), a member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, was a cosponsor of the legislation.
Posey told Eos that he hopes that the coins might be somewhat of a respite from the current bitter political atmosphere. “One of the least divisive issues in Congress generally has been the space program,” said Posey, who remembers that he was at a friend’s house when the Apollo 11 astronauts walked on the Moon.
“I watched the landing on TV. I was holding my four-month-old daughter up to the TV screen, so she could see,” Posey said. “She didn’t know what she was seeing, but I wanted [her] to say that she saw the first man step on the Moon.”
—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer