State Quarter Legacy Expands Across the Galaxy

By Brian J. Martin
October 21, 2015

This illustration shows NASA's Curiosity rover and its calibration targets, including a penny. The rover reached Mars in 2012 (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
This illustration shows NASA’s Curiosity rover and its calibration targets, including a penny. The rover reached Mars in 2012 (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

For those eagerly anticipating the next round of images from the New Horizons spacecraft this month, the wait pales in comparison to the journey of two coins.

Launched Jan. 19, 2006, New Horizons has since traveled over three billion miles, but only reached Pluto in July.

The voyage has not been done alone, however. Accompanying the spacecraft are coins from the U.S. Mint’s 50 State Quarters Program. The Maryland and Florida quarters were chosen to honor the states that designed and launched the spacecraft, and they have acted as spin balance weights during the trip.

Illustrator Ralph Butler created the Florida design in a single sitting and entered it into the U.S. Mint’s competition at the encouragement of his mother. He added the tagline “Gateway to Discovery” out of respect for Florida’s long history of exploration.

“I wish my parents were still alive to see this,” said Butler, who grew up in Florida and vividly remembers following the country’s space program since the 1950s.

“Every artist dreams of a moment of immortality, where your art will live on for your children and grandchildren. . . . To know that the Florida quarter is out there in space is wonderful. I guess it always pays to listen to your mother!”

William Krawczewicz, who designed the Maryland quarter for the U.S. Mint, said he is honored to know his imagery is traveling the far reaches of space.

“It’s unheard of,” said Krawczewicz, who now works as a banknote designer for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. “It’s really amazing that something that I helped to work on has been included in a U.S. space flight mission and is three billion miles away right now. . . . The whole mission itself shows what the American journey is all about . . . living, exploring, and discovering new frontiers.”

Watch an interview with Krawczewicz.

The U.S. Mint produced over 1.2 billion Maryland quarters and over 480 million Florida quarters between its Denver and Philadelphia facilities. Maryland was the seventh quarter to be made, signifying its entrance as the seventh state in the Union, while Florida was 27th in production. Release dates were 2000 and 2004, respectively.

Lou Vannicola, a distribution management specialist at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, remembers the atmosphere when the Maryland quarter was produced.

“It was the busiest time ever here in Philadelphia,” Vannicola recalled, “but it was a fun and exciting time, too.”

Vannicola said he was amazed to learn that two state quarters had reached the edge of our solar system.

“That program and those coins started right here and now look where they are,” said Vannicola. “Luckily, I didn’t have to schedule that shipment. . . . It’s the perfect exclamation point to that program!”

The voyage of the state quarters to Pluto represents the latest chapter in the love affair between coins and space. Twelve Sacagawea dollar coins rode with the space shuttle Columbia in 1999, while a rare 1909 U.S. penny flew to Mars with the Curiosity rover in 2012.

The Mint also produced commemorative coins bearing the space shuttle in 1992 as part of the Christopher Columbus series and the New Frontier Congressional Gold Medal on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 space flight.

See more Inside the Mint articles

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