By Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….
Coins have flown in space before. Twelve 22-karat gold Sacagawea dollar coins travelled on the Space Shuttle Columbia in July 1999. A 1909 VDB Lincoln cent currently resides on Mars, where it serves as a calibration target for one of the Curiosity rover’s imaging systems.
But today represented the possible dawn of a new era in both coin manufacture and interplanetary space travel.
At 7:05 AM Eastern Standard Time on December 5, a titanium alloy coin manufactured by a team of North Carolina State University engineers was successfully launched into space aboard the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.
The “coin” (more accurately called a round) was created after Terri Lomax, Vice Chancellor of Research, Innovation and Economic Development at NC State and a member of the National Institute of Aerospace, spoke with Professor Richard Wysk of the Fitts Industrial and Systems Engineering Department about producing it. It features an image of the University Seal, which showcases the NC State Bell Tower.
Professor Wysk and the ISE Department were uniquely equipped to deal with the time constraints imposed by the Exploration Flight Test, since, according to Robert Lasson, Director of Creative Services in the ISE Department, they were the first engineering department in the world to have an Electron Beam Melting (EBM) machine. An EBM machine is a kind of 3D printer that utilizes a high power electron beam.
Assistant professors Ron Aman and Tim Horn are ISE’s resident 3D printing experts and were in charge of the project.
The titanium alloy used to make the coin is the same alloy used in the aerospace and biomedical device industries. After the EBM machine printed the University Seal onto the coin’s surface, the team used a torch to add color and polished the coin’s higher relief areas.
Both coin and vessel safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 11:29 AM EST after a four-hour-and-20-minute flight during which Orion completed two orbits of the Earth.
Early next year, the Orion team will present NC State with a framed montage featuring the spacefaring coin. You can watch footage of today’s launch here, courtesy of NASA and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
About the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle
The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (Orion or MPCV for short) is a spacecraft capable of carrying up to four crew members beyond low-Earth orbit. Orion will eventually take astronauts back to the Moon and on to Mars and various candidate asteroids.
Today’s test flight was the first of four scheduled missions and the only one that will use the Delta IV heavy rocket. All others will launch on the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy launch vehicle, currently in development at NASA and based on the now-retired space shuttle program.
An unmanned mission to the Moon is planned for September 30, 2018. A manned mission to an asteroid in lunar orbit is expected to happen as early as 2021. A second manned mission with an as of yet undetermined itinerary is scheduled to take place on August 15, 2023.
When the 1909 VDB Lincoln cent currently on Mars is encapsulated and given a unique “Curiosity Rover” label, it will be because the Orion MPCV brought it back.
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