Woman in Calif. detained in NASA sting, accused of trying to sell moon rock for $1.7 million
LOS ANGELES - A woman offering to sell a moon rock for $1.7 million was detained in a NASA sting, authorities said Friday.
It is illegal to sell moon rocks, which are considered national treasures. The gray rocks, which were gifted to each U.S. state and 136 countries by then-President Richard Nixon, can sell for millions of dollars on the black market.
NASA agents and Riverside County sheriff's deputies detained the woman, who has not been identified, after she met Thursday with an undercover NASA investigator at a restaurant in Lake Elsinore, about 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles, the sheriff's office said.
They swooped in after the two agreed on a price and she brought out the rock, authorities said.
NASA had been investigating the woman for several months before the meeting. The space agency planned to conduct tests to determine whether the rock came from the moon as the woman claimed.
"We don't know if it's lunar material," said Gail Robinson, deputy inspector general at NASA.
The woman has not been arrested or charged. It was unknown how she obtained the rock or came to the attention of NASA.
About 2,200 samples of lunar rocks, core samples, pebbles, sand and dust — weighing about 840 pounds — were brought to Earth by NASA's Apollo lunar landing missions from 1969 to 1972. A recent count showed 10 states and more than 90 countries could not account for their shares of the gray rocks.
NASA houses 70 percent of its lunar rock and soil samples at a special lab at Johnson Space Center, and another 14 percent are in New Mexico. The rest are either on loan for study or display — or are unaccounted for.
In 2009, the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands confirmed that one of its rocks was a fake and not an artifact collected by the Apollo 11 crew.
A rock presented to Honduras was recovered in a 1998 NASA sting after a Miami collector offered $5 million for it.