US Coins

Path to Apollo 11 coin legislation faced obstacles

What may become one of the most popular commemorative coin programs in years almost did not leave the launchpad that is the halls of Congress.

The U.S. Mint will begin sales at noon Eastern Time Jan. 24 for the four 2019 Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Commemorative coins. The program commemorates the golden anniversary of man’s first walk on the moon July 20, 1969.

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The coin program might never have gotten off the ground had it not been for the persistent grassroots efforts started in 2014 by then Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee member Mike Olson from Iowa to secure authorizing legislation that ultimately became Public Law 114-282.

Olson said the concept for the coin program came to him in February 2014, several months before the conclusion of his four-year CCAC term.

Olson proposed the 2019 coin program during discussions of the coin and medal design review panel’s preparation of its annual report.

The annual report includes the panel’s recommendations for commemorative coin programs.

Before heading to Washington for the Feb. 14 meeting, Olson said he watched the movie Apollo 13, which he had viewed several times before.

Olson said he realized 2019 was within the range for an Apollo 11 coin program to be included in the CCAC’s annual report.

After Olson’s CCAC term expired, CCAC chairman Gary Marks proposed it again for the 2015 annual report, in which it was included. Olson also credited CCAC members Tom Uram and Erik Jansen with moving the measure forward.

In January 2015, Olson, a banker by profession, brought his legislative proposal to Iowa congressman Rod Blum. Blum took the initiative to Florida congressman Bill Posey, whose district includes the Kennedy Space Center.

Posey assembled a bipartisan  team of co-sponsors and introduced legislation in the House in June 2015. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate in May 2016 by Sen. Bill Nelson, R-Fla. Nelson had a special connection to the space program; in January 1986, he had become the second sitting member of Congress to fly in space when he served as a payload specialist on the space shuttle Columbia.

During the summer of 2016, Olson said persistent efforts on Capitol Hill were able to secure co-sponsors totaling two-thirds of the House — a legislative requirement for the coinage bill — but only 15 of the required 67 Senate co-sponsors. He had limited time to achieve final passage; it all had to be done before the end of the legislative session and signed by President Obama in 2016.

The Apollo 11 measure was also in competition with other commemorative coin bills that could have pushed the Apollo 11 bills aside, Olson said.

“We hoped to get a vote in the House in the fall and move over to the Senate, but that did not happen,” Olson explained. “The House vote ended up taking place on the last day it was in session, Monday Dec. 5, 2016, and it passed with 298 votes. On that evening, I believe we had 16 Senate cosponsors and needed to get to 67 in order for that bill to be brought up for a vote on Friday December 9. If that sounds like a tall order, it became taller when we found out we needed the 67 by close of business on Wednesday, December 7.”

An 11th hour push by proponents of the Apollo 11 measure elevated the Senate co-sponsor count to 70.

An unrelated issue that proposed to derail the Apollo 11 legislation and other bills requiring Senate votes finally got resolved, allowing the coin legislation to pass in the early morning hours of Dec. 10.

President Obama signed the legislation into law on Dec. 16, 2016, one of his last pieces of legislation approved while the nation’s chief executive.

“Involvement in the passage of this coin program has afforded me opportunities that I could not have imagined, such as meeting most of the surviving Apollo astronauts and family members as well as my recent appointment to the Astronauts Memorial Foundation,” Olson said. “I consider that appointment to be a great honor and it will allow me to continue to interact with this special group of Americans.” 

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