The Mines Geology Museum recently became home to a rare moon rock, long thought to be missing. Its value estimated at more than $5 million, the specimen was one of 360 rocks to come back to Earth in 1974 aboard Apollo 17, the sixth and final lunar landing mission of the Apollo program.
President Richard Nixon awarded each state and 160 countries a set of two goodwill moon rocks. Of the two rocks Colorado received, one is on display at the State Capitol, and the other was recently found to be in the care of former Gov. John Vanderhoof. The moon rock’s discovery made news when a graduate student at the University of Phoenix, working with that institution’s ongoing Moon Rock Project, traced the sample to Vanderhoof. At the ceremonial unveiling of the new exhibit, Gov. Bill Ritter thanked the university for putting the specimen on public display, saying, “Residents, visitors and students alike will now have an opportunity to learn and be inspired by this new moon rock display.”
Admiral Richard Truly, a Mines trustee and former astronaut, joined President Scoggins and the governor in welcoming the historic exhibit to campus. Truly served as a NASA astronaut from 1969 to 1983, supporting all three of the manned Skylab missions in 1973 and the Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1985.
Truly first flew into space in 1981 as a pilot of the space shuttle Columbia, and in 1983 he was commander of the Challenger for the first night launch and landing of the space shuttle program.
After the Challenger disaster in 1986, Truly was placed in charge of the investigation and of getting the program back into space. He served as a NASA administrator from 1989 to 1992.
“Of all the NASA programs, it’s Apollo that is the magic moment,” said Truly. “It occurred in a decade when not much good was going on in our country … But one magical thing that was going on was that for the first time humans were leaving the Earth. That a piece of the lunar soil that was picked up by Apollo 17, the final mission to the moon, is now here at the Colorado School of Mines Museum … is just a marvelous occasion.”
—Trisha Bentz Kendall