Marking the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the mission that put the first men on the moon, has meant some prep work for Chattanooga resident Kathie Scobee Fulgham.
Fulgham serves on the board of the Astronauts Memorial Foundation, one of several organizations planning remembrances of the historic spaceflight of Commander Neil Armstrong, lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin and command module pilot Michael Collins on July 20, 1969. She's been especially busy as part of the committee responsible for the release of a commemorative coin collection.
In September, she took part in the unveiling of the coin design at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. In December, there was a coin strike ceremony at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. And last month, Jan. 23-26, she was in Florida for the launch of coin sales at Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral.
Did you know?
Two state quarters are currently in outer space. The coins of Maryland and Florida are on NASA’s New Horizons mission exploring Pluto, its moon and the Kuiper Belt, the farthest spacecraft flyby in history.
Source: U.S. Mint
The latest trip brought a chance encounter with actor/director George Clooney.
He was "across the hallway from our board meeting at AMF on the 25th," Fulgham says. "He was directing his documentary about Apollo 11. (He's) super engaged in AMF's mission and the coin launch. Nice, nice guy."
Clooney is one of a number of celebrities (Tom Hanks, Ron Howard, Queen's Brian May) who admit to being starstruck by the mysteries and possibilities of space.
Fulgham's interest is more personal. She is the daughter of Francis "Dick" Scobee, who perished with six other crew members, including teacher Christa McAuliffe, on Jan. 28, 1986, while commanding the space shuttle Challenger. The craft suffered catastrophic booster failure and exploded 73 seconds into launch.
The Astronauts Memorial Foundation was founded in the wake of the Challenger accident. Its 16-member board consists of retired and current astronauts, retired military, a lawyer, a banker, an educator/administrator and three children of astronauts.
Fulgham has served on the board of directors for more than a decade. Her career in public relations — she owns KSF Communications — led to her appointment as chair of the foundation's Development/Special Projects Committee.
"My main contribution is helping AMF staff and board members host annual and significant memorial and opening events at Kennedy Space Center for our fallen astronauts," she says. "For example, the 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster focused on the opening of the Heroes and Legends Gallery at (Kennedy Space Center), which honored both Challenger and Columbia astronauts."
The Apollo 11 commemorative coins may be purchased directly from the U.S. Mint (www.usmint.gov) or through private distributors.
Coins also are available through the Astronauts Memorial Foundation at www.amfcse.org.
That "very solemn space," she says, contains artifacts from both accidents, as well as personal stories about each fallen astronaut. It includes the giant windshield from space shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated upon re-entering Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven crew members, on Feb. 1, 2003. And there's an "enormous piece of Challenger emblazoned with the American flag," she says.
The Apollo 11 50th anniversary commemorative coin launch is different from the foundation's previous projects, she says, because it focuses on the transformative achievement of America's space program.
"We are celebrating a triumph of mankind that brought people together from all over the world and reaffirmed our shared humanity and sense of purpose: landing a man on the moon," she says. "These beautifully crafted coins remind me of a moment in time when American pride soared."
The collection features four coins in gold, silver and clad commemorations with proof and uncirculated finishes.
Adding to their desirability: Each has a concave and convex side, only the second collection with this feature (a 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coin was the first).
"These coins are a bit unique, with a distinct curve that you will be able to see and feel," says David Ryder, director of the U.S. Mint.
The obverse, or head's side, of the coin is concave, curving inward to the engraved image of Aldrin's bootprint in lunar soil. There are also the inscriptions "Mercury," "Gemini" and "Apollo," the names of the three NASA human spaceflight programs leading up to the moon landing. The words are separated by the phases of the moon. Additional inscriptions are "2019," "In God We Trust" and "Liberty."
The reverse design is convex, resembling the outward curve of an astronaut's helmet. It features a representation of the iconic "Buzz Aldrin on the Moon" photograph taken during the mission. It shows just the visor and part of the helmet Aldrin was wearing. The reflection in the helmet includes the lunar lander, the U.S. flag and Armstrong standing on the moon's surface. Its inscriptions are "United States of America," the respective denomination and "E Pluribus Unum."
The collection features a $5 gold coin (priced by the Mint at $418.75 for proof, $408.75 for uncirculated), a $1 silver coin ($54.95 proof, $51.95 uncirculated), a half-dollar clad coin ($27.95 proof, $25.95 uncirculated) and a 5-ounce $1 silver proof coin ($224.95).
All four varieties have the same design and are differentiated by the metal they are made of. Clad half dollars, the least expensive option, are composed of the same copper nickel clad that everyday coins are made of.
As authorized by Congress, the U.S. Mint will strike up to 50,000 gold coins, no more than 400,000 silver dollar coins, no more than 750,000 clad half-dollar coins and up to 100,000 5-ounce silver proof coins.
The Mint reports that more than $31 million worth of coins were sold the first day they were available, Jan. 24.
"Given the initial customer interest and sales volume, it's looking very likely that the Apollo 11 coin program will be a huge success for the United States Mint and the coin collecting community," says Ryder. "I want to especially thank Kathie and everyone else involved for the outstanding job they have done in bringing the Apollo 11 commemorative coin program from just a concept to fruition. I would also like to thank all the men and women of the United States Mint for their excellent efforts."
The stated prices include surcharges of $35 for each gold coin, $10 for each silver coin, $5 for each half-dollar clad coin and $50 for each 5-ounce proof silver dollar coin.
These surcharges will be divided among three causes: half to the Air and Space Museum's "Destination Moon" exhibit, scheduled to open in 2022; one-fourth to the Astronauts Memorial Foundation; and one-fourth to the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.
The $31 million first-day sales "puts us well on our way to earning over $3 million in surcharges available for AMF," Fulgham says.
Fulgham says the audience for the coin launch ceremony included astronauts, children of astronauts, Apollo workers and board members of the two foundations.
Fulgham's mother, June Scobee Rodgers, describes the ceremony as "a nostalgic trip into American space history."
"A highlight for us, besides visiting with dear friends, was the keynote address by astronaut Charlie Duke, the voice of NASA at mission control during the lunar landing. He told the audience about his firsthand experience as communicator with the astronauts for their moon landing and first courageous steps onto the moon with such vivid description that he had to make the gesture of wiping the perspiration from his face. Thus, the beauty of the images on the coins became reality for us. They are more than a collectors' item; they represent a part of America's proudest moments in space exploration."
Fulgham receives no complimentary coins as a member of the board, but she was among the handful of board members who traveled to Philadelphia to strike their own coins in December.
"This was an incredible honor," she says. "(Husband) Scott and I both struck a proof silver dollar so we'd be able to display both sides of the coin when we mount them. We'll be able to purchase those exact coins with documentation from the Mint. We were also treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the Mint. Fascinating."
Ryder says the Mint is working with NASA to arrange for one of the coins to fly in space, adding to the $14.51 in change that has previously been launched on missions into Earth orbit on the space shuttle, to the surface of Mars on board the Curiosity rover and to the farthest reaches of our solar system's planetary system on the New Horizons probe.
Ryder hopes the 2019 commemorative coins continue to inspire the public to celebrate and remember the moon landing.
"Each time a person looks at one of these commemorative coins, it will serve as a reminder of the unprecedented engineering, scientific and political achievement that secured our nation's leadership in space for generations," he says.
Again, for Fulgham the interest is personal.
"Being the child of an awesome astronaut is a great source of pride for me," she says. "How many individuals have soared to Daddy's heights in order to study the universe while enveloped by the stars? He was my hero long before he became an astronaut, so that pride extends to long before the Challenger mission."
The commemorative coins are a reminder, she says, "for keeping the dream alive — the dream of exploration, inspiration and education."
Contact Lisa Denton at email@example.com or 423-757-6281.