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News In Brief

Found moon rock from Apollo mission worth $5 million

Melissa Kaplan Jun 2, 2010

President Nixon gave then-Colorado Governor John Vanderhoof a moon rock the size of a fingernail collected during the Apollo 17 mission. When he left office, Vanderhoof took it with
him to his new home in Grand Junction. The rock recently turned up at his house, and it turns out it’s worth $5 million. Of the 50 bits of moon given to all the states’ governors at the time, half have gone missing.

Colorado Governor John Vanderhoof served two years in the state’s executive chair. And when he left, he took a plaque with him given to the state by then-President Richard Nixon. It had a tiny piece of the moon glued to it – encapsulated in this crystal-ball like sphere, which says ‘Hey, look what America did!’ It was a piece of history from the Apollo 17 mission.

Nixon gave each state a plaque. With the rock inside the ball attached to it. For years and years and years, Vanderhoof had possession of the piece. He moved to grand Junction, far away from the state capitol of Denver. And hung it there, knowing how special it was.

It was only when a group of students from the University of Phoenix went looking for the rocks all over the country that the governor found himself between a rock and a hard place. The man who teaches a master’s level class at the school, Joseph Gutheinz, was a NASA investigator in a past life, before he became moon rock investigator. He charged his students to look for these rocks — for credit.

They did, and found that nearly half the states can’t find their rocks either. Moved, perhaps, to new houses when gubernatorial terms expired. Stashed aside, by those who thought it was a mere cheap political trinket.

Too bad they didn’t know what the rock was worth. That money could help some state budgets that are deep in hock right now. And think about it: the longer we stay away from the moon, the more valuable those little trinkets become.

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