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Astronaut on state's proposed quarter is from New Jersey

The astronaut depicted on the latest version of Ohio's proposed commemorative quarter is based on a photograph of someone with no tangible ties to the Buckeye state.

Unless, of course, you count the fact that the photograph involved was taken by Ohio astronaut Neil Armstrong.

The astronaut likeness (left) the U.S. Mint recommends for the Ohio commemorative

quarter is from a photo (right) of New Jersey-born Buzz Aldrin - not one of the many Ohio astronauts.

But federal and state officials involved in the design of the coin to be released in April - a year before the state's bicentennial celebration - said they do not see the lack of a direct Ohio connection as a problem.

The depiction, rendered by artists with the U.S. Mint, bears more than a striking resemblance to a picture taken on the moon on July 20, 1969, of then Air Force Col. Edwin F. “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr., a native of Montclair, N.J., who now lives in southern California.

The mint has a rule that no living person can appear on its coins.

“That would be interesting and would be of concern,” Matt Kilbourne, a spokesman for the mint, said initially when told of the anomalies.

But after consulting with mint personnel, Mr. Kilbourne explained that the agency's artists wanted a good, detailed image of an astronaut and used the NASA photograph as a foundation so the rendering would be historically accurate.

“It's a generic rendering of an astronaut. It's an image of a spacesuit - not an image of a human being,” Mr. Kilbourne said.

Ohio's 11-member Commemorative Quarter Program Committee - after making some changes in the mint-recommended design that included the new version of the astronaut - voted unanimously last week to send Governor Taft the latest proposed quarter.

In addition to the astronaut, it includes an image of the Wright Brothers' airplane, an outline of the state, and the legend “Birthplace of Aviation.”

At least 1 billion Ohio coins will be minted.

Tom Noe, chairman of the committee and president of Vintage Coins and Collectibles in Monclova Township, said the committee has no problem with the mint's depiction of the astronaut.

“We meant it to be a generic astronaut,” he said. “We wanted it to be as generic as possible. Theirs is more detailed [than the one the committee originally sent to the mint].”

“If [the mint] wants to change the astronaut - give it a different look - that's OK as long as it doesn't change the look of the coin. We don't have a problem either way,” he said. “It's still not too late to change the astronaut.”

Mr. Noe added that his committee also wants the coin to be as historically accurate as possible.

The mint's rendering, according to Mr. Kilbourne, was based on NASA Photograph AS11-40-5903, entitled “Astronaut Edwin F. Aldrin walks on lunar surface near leg of Lunar Module.”

The NASA-written caption reads: “Astronaut Edwin F. Aldrin, Jr., lunar module pilot, faces the camera as he walks on the moon during Apollo 11 extravehicular activity. The plexiglass of his helmet reflects back the scene in front of him, such as the Lunar Module and Astronaut Armstrong taking his picture.”

Since the committee began its work, it has reviewed more than 7,300 design proposals before ultimately settling on four recommendations sent to the mint in June. They were:

  • Neil Armstrong in his space suit and the Wright Brothers' plane, with the words “Birthplace of Aviation.”

  • Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, John Glenn's Friendship 7 space capsule, and the Wright Brothers' plane.

  • An outline of Ohio with buckeye leaves, a cardinal, the state bird, and the words “Buckeye State.”

  • The Wright Brothers' plane, the light bulb invented by Milan, Ohio, native Thomas Edison, and the words “Spirit of Invention.”

    But mint officials, invoking the no living person rule, decided earlier this year that the state committee's initial astronaut renderings bore too much resemblance to Mr. Armstrong.

    So the mint sent the committee its own coin recommendations, including the rendering of an astronaut based on the photograph of Mr. Aldrin, who is now 71.

    There are only two or three photographs - none really that clear - documenting the lunar activities of Mr. Armstrong, a Wapakoneta native who was the first person to walk on the moon.

    There is some grainy black-and-white video of Mr. Armstrong taking “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” and some 16-millimeter, color motion picture footage that shows him and his crewmate, Mr. Aldrin, the second person on the moon.

    Mr. Noe said that even though the initial astronaut renderings were referred to as being those of Mr. Armstrong, the committee favored a generic depiction of an astronaut. “It was just not him. It could have been others [who wore similar spacesuits],” he said. “We did this to honor all the astronauts from Ohio.”

    The state is sometimes referred to as “the cradle of astronauts” because it is home to more astronauts - 24 - than any other state, according to NASA. Five other astronauts have Ohio affiliations, but not Mr. Aldrin.

    The mint made other changes to the state's four recommendations, which resulted in a moon dustlike dust-up.

    There were questions about whether the Wright Brothers' plane should be included because North Carolina's commemorative quarter, which was released this year, includes the plane.

    Orville and Wilbur Wright built the airplane at their bicycle shop in Dayton, but flew it in the first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., on Dec. 17, 1903.

    The mint artists added 17 stars - representing Ohio's status as the 17th state admitted to the Union - to the borders of some of the state's recommended coins and reversed the flight path of Wright Brothers' plane.

    And the mint changed the state's version of the Edison light bulb.

    The alterations did not sit well with the state's committee, which removed the stars and changed the flight path of the Wright Flyer back to heading out of Ohio. They kept the astronaut but moved it to reveal more of the outline of the state's border.

    Then the committee sent the coin's final design to the governor. Mr. Taft will forward the design to the U.S. secretary of the Treasury, who will study the matter further and return to the governor what the secretary thinks is the best design.

    The governor can make any changes he deems fit and send the proposed coin back to the secretary, who then makes the final decision, Mr. Kilbourne said.

    The mint's role, he said, is to see that Ohio gets the design it wants. “It's a collaborative process. There still could be modifications to the astronaut [rendering]. It's a fluid situation.”

    The mint is releasing five commemorative state quarters each year through 2008.

    The coins will feature a different picture on the reverse - tails - side representing each of the 50 states. A profile of George Washington will continue to appear on the obverse - heads - side.

    The mint hopes that the coins will stimulate interest in numismatics, the collection and study of coins, paper money, tokens, and medals. A coin has a typical life of about 30 years.

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