World Coins

Royal Australian Mint hosts NASA astronaut for coin striking

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.

The RAM is working with Lockheed Martin to see if one of the Orion coins may be included in the payload of an Orion capsule undertaking a deep space mission in the future. One of the other examples may be added to the Australian national coin collection, and "possibly the other may be made available to NASA for posterity," Marcus Butler, a communications officer at the Royal Australian Mint, said. "Of course, all this hinges on the outcome of our engagement on this."

Lockheed Martin purchased a standard example of the coin from the RAM inventory for presentation to Hieb, Butler said.

All three domed coins in the Southern Sky series are color printed to emulate their presence in the celestial sphere. Aside from the distinctive domed effect, the coins also feature the coordinates of the respective constellations in the night sky.

All three coins feature the Queen Elizabeth II effigy by Ian Rank-Broadley on the obverse, and Aaron Baggio is credited with the Orion coin's reverse design.

The 1-ounce coins measure 39.62 millimeters in diameter. 

The coins retail for $120 Australian. The Pavo and Orion coins can be purchased through the Royal Australian Mint’s eShop or by calling the RAM at (011) 1300 652 020.

Distributer Downies also offers the 2013 and 2014 coins at the issue price of $120 AUD.

To order from Downies, visit its website or telephone the company toll free at 877-897-7696.

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