The end of an era

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Sadly, today marks the end of an era.

Earlier, we highlighted the 50th anniversary of the first American in space. Now, just a couple of months later, we say goodbye to America and NASA’s self-sufficiency for traveling into space.

The last shuttle mission returned safely today and ended that mode of travel for our astronauts.

Through the years, the US Mint has paid homage to America’s involvement in space exploration and travel. To date, the legal tender coins have not directly honored the space program unless you count the reverse of the Eisenhower and Susan B. Anthony dollars. Those coins included an adaptation of the Apollo 11 insignia. (Reverse views of the two different dollar coins can be seen in our May post.)

But, others, in particular the Republic of the Marshall Islands, obtained legal tender coins for specifically recognizing our space program. One of their coins included a First Men on the Moon $5 Commemorative released in 1989 on the 20th anniversary of the triumph.

Eight years before that anniversary, the space shuttle program’s maiden voyage occurred in April 1981. In its 40 years, the shuttle program launched 135 missions and successfully returned 133 spacecraft.

Eleven years after the first voyage, the US Mint did include half of a shuttle on the obverse of their 1992 Columbus Commemorative Silver dollar. But that coin recognized Columbus rather than specifically honoring the achievement of the space program.

For today, let’s provide a coin tribute to the shuttle program by reviewing the reverse of the 2004 Florida quarter from the US Mint’s State Quarters Program.

2004 Florida State Quarter Reverse with Shuttle

Again, this coin was not produced to honor the space program directly. Instead, the coin’s image provides the dramatic contrast between the exploration ships of the early days of our country and the exploratory spaceship from the late 20th century.  Florida with its relatively temperate climate, low terrain and miles of coastline was instrumental in both the early exploration and later space flights.

An era may be ending, but humans have an inquisitive nature and an adventurous spirit. Something new will be developed as an exploration vehicle of the future. Will it be government funded or private industry? What? When?

Time will tell.

For now, the Florida quarter allows us, in coin form, to remember, to be proud and to recognize the efforts and sacrifices of the many people associated with the shuttle program. With the Florida quarter as a reminder, we can think of all the people associated with the shuttle program with honor and respect.

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