Moon rock hung on ex-governor’s wall for 35 years

John Vanderhoof, the governor of Colorado from 1973 to 1975, holds a plaque with a crystal ball containing a moon rock in the office of his Grand Junction home Tuesday. Vanderhoof has had the plaque since it was presented to him decades ago.

Former Gov. John Vanderhoof has one of Colorado’s moon rocks. It’s been hanging for years on his office wall.

The rock, encased in plastic, was taken from the Taurus Littrow Valley of the moon on the Apollo 17 mission.

“It’s about the size of a fingernail,” Vanderhoof said.

The rock has a twin hanging in the state Capitol, and Vanderhoof, 88, who served as the state’s chief executive from 1973 to 1975, said he’s glad to return the rock that he’s studied about once a week, and he wants more than to simply turn it over.

The rock ought to be used to highlight Colorado’s participation in the United States’ space program, Vanderhoof said.

When Ritter’s office called Tuesday to take the rock off his hands, “I said that would be fine, but I think the space program, it needs a little boost of some kind,” Vanderhoof said.

Colorado, he said, “had the most astronauts from the very beginning. This should be one of the premium things to celebrate their history.”

Vanderhoof has a point, Ritter spokesman Even Dreyer said. The University of Colorado at Boulder boasts more graduates who have gone on to become astronauts than any other institution, Dreyer said.

Astronaut Eugene Cernan of the Apollo 17 mission is a graduate of the University of Colorado. He and Harrison Schmitt were the last two men to visit the moon.

The rock has a bit of history itself.

While Vanderhoof remembers the rock as being presented in recognition of Colorado’s participation in the space program, it was among rocks presented in 1974 to all 50 states and 160 nations.

Recently described as Colorado’s missing moon rock, it’s been hidden in plain sight, Vanderhoof said.

“It was presented, as near as I can remember, by NASA to me and all the people interested in the space program,” Vanderhoof said. “It’s been in my custody ever since,” some 35 years.

No organization to which he offered it ever was much interested, he said.

The plaque that holds the rock has a metal plate describing it as a fragment “of a larger rock composed of many particles of different shapes and sizes, a symbol of the unity of human endeavor and mankind’s hope for a future of peace and harmony.”

Another plate on the plaque notes it was presented to the people of Colorado.

Whether Vanderhoof ought to have left the rock in the governor’s office isn’t the important question, Dreyer said. “We’re just happy they found it,” Dreyer said, “Now, it’s just a question of making the rock available to visitors and residents in a way they can best appreciate and learn from it.”


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