US Coins

This Day in History: March 13

A silver Robbins medallion from the Apollo 9 mission bears the inscribed dates of the mission, from March 3 to 13, 1969. The Apollo 9 crew approaches splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean in the scene in the background.

Medal images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

The United States’ manned missions to the moon required the development of and training with an enormous amount of equipment.

On March 13, 1969, the Apollo 9 mission returned to Earth after spending 10 days in low Earth orbit testing several things critical to landing on the moon, including the Lunar Module engines, backpack life support systems, navigation systems, and docking maneuvers. The mission involved the second manned launch of a Saturn V rocket.

Apollo 9 was the third manned mission in the Apollo space program and the first flight of the command/aervice module with the lunar module. The three cremen were commander James McDivitt, command module pilot David Scott, and lunar module pilot Rusty Schweickart. 

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After launching on March 3, 1969, the men performed the first manned flight of a lunar module, the first docking and extraction of a lunar module, two spacewalks, and the second docking of two manned spacecraft — two months after the Soviets performed a spacewalk crew transfer between Soyuz 4 and Soyuz 5. 

The mission proved the lunar module worthy of manned spaceflight. Further tests on the Apollo 10 mission would prepare the lunar module for its ultimate goal, landing on the moon. 

Space-flown artifacts are available for many of the lunar missions.

Beginning with the first manned Apollo flight, Apollo 7, mission crew members contracted with the Robbins Co. of Attleboro, Mass., to create a series of gold and silver medals. The Robbins medals were ordered and paid for by NASA crew and staff, who were allowed to buy medals for any mission, regardless of their participation in the mission. A small number of each Robbins medal was placed aboard the Apollo spacecraft during a mission; the number flown aboard the spacecraft for any mission was limited. 

Apollo missions carried between three and seven 14-karat gold medals per flight, and anywhere from 80 to 450 silver medals were “space flown” per mission, according to Howard Weinberger, author of two books on the Robbins medallions. 

The silver medals remained in astronauts’ personal preference kits in the command module during the flights. However, on the lunar landing missions, the gold medals were taken to the lunar surface, according to Weinberger. 

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