Learn the back story of this intriguing new issue in the popular Native American dollar coin series, and how key elements of the U.S. space program were made possible by the amazing work of a Native-American engineer named Mary Golda Ross who was part of a top secret-team.
In December 2018 the United States Mint unveiled the design for the 2019 Native American $1-dollar coin, the 11th issue in this series that pays tribute to renowned Native-American engineer and mathematician Mary Golda Ross and the role of Native -American astronauts in the U.S. space program.
The Native American $1-coin program, which has been issued since 2009 and was authorized by Public Law 110-82, was designed to recognize the many contributions of Native Americans to the development of the United States.
The law mandates that the reverse of each year’s coin depict an image emblematic of an important contribution by a Native American or Native Americans.
The obverse continues to feature a profile by Glenna Goodacre of Sacagawea, the famous Shoshone Indian who served as an interpreter for the Corps of Discovery in the 18th century (usually called the Lewis and Clark expedition). Contrary to popular myth, she did not actually serve as a guide for the expedition. This obverse was used from 2000 to 2008 for the Sacagawea dollar coin series, and the Native American series is a continuation of that series.
The design of the 2019 Native American dollar shows Mary Golda Ross as she writes calculations with a pen and paper, an image of the Atlas-Agena rocket as it launches into space appears to her left. To her right, is an equation inscribed in the clouds and an astronaut, who symbolizes Native American astronauts such as John Herrington, is depicted hanging off the inner border of the coin as he spacewalks. In the field above, is a group of stars and inscriptions for “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” and “$1.”
Ross, a Cherokee Indian who was the first known Native-American female engineer, was part of a top-secret team that worked at Lockheed from 1942 until 1973, and planned the early stages of the space program. She was best-known for her work on aerospace design, including the Agena rocket. She also developed design concepts for interplanetary space travel, for manned and unmanned flights to orbit the earth, and for orbiting-satellites that could be used for civilian and national security purposes.
The Agena upper rocket stage was used by NASA in the 1960s to develop the rendezvous and docking trials for the Gemini space program. The tests for that program played a crucial role in successfully landing the various Apollo program astronauts on the moon and in the international space station.
Ross attributed much of her success to the heritage and traditions of the Cherokee tribe, which emphasize equal education for men and women. At Lockheed, Ross was part of Skunk Woods, the top-secret team that played a key role in the early years of the space race and much of whose work remains classified to this day.
In 2004, when Ross was 96, she attended the opening ceremony for the National Museum of the Native American in Washington, DC. The proposal for the 2019 $1-dollar coin honoring her was developed in consultation with officials from the museum.
Willis Jenkins, a NASA engineer, was assigned to research Ross’ career as a liaison to the Mint’s commemorative coin project. Jenkins said he tried to place herself in Ross’ shoes, performing calculations to put a rocker in space – a feat that was especially complex back in the 1960s when computers were in their early stages of development.
John Harrington, the first member of the Chickasaw nation to fly in space who is also depicted on the new coin, was a NASA astronaut from 1996 to 2005. In 2002 he flew on the Space Shuttle Endeavor to work on the international space station, which he also manned that year. There are also other Native American astronauts such as John C. Elliot High Eagle.
The reverse design, which was first unveiled in the winter 2018 issue of the quarterly magazine of the National Museum of the American Indian called American Indian, was created by U.S. Mint Artistic Infusion Program designer, Emily Damstra, and was sculpted by recently named Chief Engraver of the U.S Mint, Joseph Menna.
Ms. Damstra said she learned of Ross’ amazing contributions to the space program when she received the assignment to design a coin honoring American Indian contributions to that program, noting: “Her achievements deeply impressed me, and I was excited for the opportunity to tell her story through numismatic art.”
The obverse features the Glenna Goodacre design of Sacagawea carrying her infant son, Jean-Baptiste, along with inscriptions for “LIBERTY” and “IN GOD WE TRUST. The year, mint mark and motto (“E PLURIBUS UNUM”) are inscribed along the edge.
The new coin will be struck in four different finishes and included in a variety of products.
Proof coins struck at the San Francisco Mint will be part of the 2019 proof set and silver proof set; uncirculated coins struck on special presses with greater force than the coins sold in bags and rolls that will be produced at the Philadelphia and Denver Mints, which will be part of the 2019 mint set; circulation-quality coins that will be sold in 25-coin rolls and 100-coin bags; and an enhanced uncirculated coin that will be part of the 2019 Native American coin and currency set.
Coin and Currency sets with an enhanced uncirculated Native American dollar and $1 bill were issued from 2014 to 2016 and are very popular with collectors. A 2019 set featuring the coin honoring Mary Golda Ross is likely to be a big hit, especially in 2019 when the Apollo 11 mission to the moon is celebrating its golden anniversary.
You first chance to purchase these coins will be once they are released in bags and rolls on February 13. The 2019 proof set will be issued on March 1. The uncirculated coin set and silver proof set are coming in the spring, and the coin and currency set will be released during the summer.
Paul Gilkes, “2019 Native American dollar to be offered in four finishes,” Coin World, December 14, 2018
“US Mint reveals coin honoring American Indians in space program,” www.collectspace.com, December 17, 2018
Herman Viola, “Mary Golda Ross: She Reached for the Stars,” American Indian, winter 2018
||Louis is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer specializing on modern coins. He has been writing a weekly column for CoinWeek since May 2011 called “The Coin Analyst,” which focuses primarily on modern U.S. and world coins and developments at major world mints. In August 2015 he received the Numismatic Literary Guild’s award for Best Website Column for “The Coin Analyst,” and in August 2021 the column received the NLG award for best column on modern U.S. coins. He has also received other awards for his writing. He is also a contributor to several magazines, including Coin World, where he writes a bimonthly feature;The Numismatist, the American Numismatic Association’s monthly publication, where he writes a monthly column on modern world coins; and and other publications. He began writing about coins in 2009. He is a founding member of the Modern Coin Forum hosted by ModernCoinMart and has written articles for MCM since 2014. He has collected classic and modern U.S. and world coins since he was about 10 and first joined the ANA in the 1970’s. He has been writing professionally since the early 1980s.|