Missing moon rock turns up in ex-governor’s house
DENVER – A missing moon rock given to Colorado in 1974 has turned up in an ex-governor’s house.
The rock was given to former Gov. John Vanderhoof by the Nixon administration, which awarded bits of moon rubble to all 50 states and more than 130 foreign countries from the Apollo 17 mission. Rocks in 16 other states and Puerto Rico remain unaccounted for and a former NASA investigator who is now a college professor has been on a mission to track them down.
Vanderhoof said Tuesday he kept the moon rock in the governor’s office, and when he left a year later after losing his re-election to Democrat Dick Lamm, the lunar souvenir ended up in a pile of his personal effects and came home with him to western Colorado.
“It’s right here, just sitting right here,” said Vanderhoof, 88, from his home in Grand Junction. “It was put in with a bunch of stuff I had, I guess.”
Denver’s KMGH-TV called Vanderhoof and asked him if he had the rock after The Denver Post reported that University of Phoenix student Richard Kevin Griffis had discovered that the rock Vanderhoof accepted in 1974 was unaccounted for. Rocks given to Colorado in 1969 from the Apollo 11 mission were found about a decade ago in storage at the Colorado History Museum, but officials didn’t realize that the 1974 rock was missing.
Vanderhoof was given the thumbnail-sized brown rock by NASA astronaut Jack Lousma in 1974.
Vanderhoof, who had a stroke five years ago, said he periodically gazes at the rock but didn’t think anyone else was interested in it. Asked about his memories of receiving it, Vanderhoof chuckled – “I can’t remember,” he confessed.
The missing moon rocks have sparked scientific interest and even a bit of international intrigue. Last year, a fake moon rock was discovered in the Netherlands’ national museum.
Griffis’ professor is former NASA investigator Joseph Gutheinz, who uses the missing moon rocks as a chance to teach his forensics classes how to conduct investigation. As a NASA agent in 1998, he went undercover and found a man who was trying to sell the Apollo 17 rock given to Honduras – which was cut from the same rock as Colorado’s and all the other 1974 specimens – for $5 million.
Gutheinz said some states say they have their rocks in storage for security reasons but other states have locked them away and lost track of them. Both of Hawaii’s moon rocks were found locked in a closet and in New York, the Apollo 17 rock is in storage and the Apollo 11 one is missing. In Guyana, a moon rock turned up in a shoe box.
Vanderhoof joked that he would gladly give the rock to a museum or institute. He said he already has an office full of mementos from 20 years in the Colorado Legislature and then his short time as governor – Vanderhoof served from 1973 to 1975 when the previous governor left to take a job with Nixon’s National Energy Policy Office.
The moon rock, he said, isn’t as important to him as the two Purple Hearts he was awarded during World War II.
“They can take it if they want it,” Vanderhoof said. “I don’t guess I need it.”
With moon travel no longer on the horizon, Gutheinz said it’s possible the rocks could fetch even more than he was quoted in 1998.
“It’s a connection between us here on earth and an astronaut that ventured 200,000 miles away and walked on another piece of real estate, the moon,” he said. “It will always be a great part of our history and that moon rock is the link.”
Associated Press Writer Colleen Slevin contributed to this report.
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