Astronauts may achieve their fame by going to outer space, but rarely do their activities on Terra firma make news.
On Aug. 18 the Royal Australian Mint hosted former American astronaut Richard “Rick” Hieb for a ceremonial coin striking, the first time an astronaut has visited the factory in Canberra, Australia.
Hieb struck three examples of the coin, all of which are being set aside for possible special future use.
The ceremony came two weeks after the RAM issued the Orion Proof .999 fine silver $5 coin, the third and final release in the award-winning, three-year Southern Skies series of Proof silver dome-shaped $5 coins.
Hieb, currently a vice president with Lockheed Martin’s Antarctic Support Operations, said via a press release: “I have accumulated some significant firsts throughout my career, but this is the first time I have ever been able to strike a coin myself. I am truly thankful to the Royal Australian Mint for being provided with that opportunity.”
Hieb’s career with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration includes three space flights (1991, 1992 and 1994), including being on the original flight of the space shuttle Endeavour. Hieb was also a member of the first three-person extra-vehicular activity (spacewalk).
In Greek mythology, Orion desired to impress, either through his hunting skills or his handsome charm. As a constellation on the celestial equator, Orion is visible around the world, holding his club and shield.
The Orion coin has a mintage limit of 10,000 pieces, the same as the 2012 Crux and 2013 Pavo coins in the series. The 2012 Crux has sold out, but the 2013 Pavo coin remains available.
The Orion constellation is one of the most widely recognized star constellations visible in both hemispheres and includes some of the largest and brightest stars in the night sky.
The latest deep space exploration mission being advanced by NASA, also named Orion, is laying the groundwork to send people to Mars in the years after 2017.