May 23, 2011

California Woman Questioned About Moon Rock

A California woman is being questioned about her claims that she had a sample from the lunar surface for sale, BBC News reports.

"It's possible this is a moon rock, but it has to be tested first," said Gail Robinson, deputy inspector general at NASA.

The woman, who has not been identified, was taken into custody on Thursday morning as part of an undercover sting conducted by NASA investigators and aided by local police. She was not arrested, Robinson said.

In an investigation several months in the making, undercover agents agreed to meet the woman in Lake Elsinor, California where investigators agreed to purchase the moon rock for $1.7 million. When the woman produced the artifact, several police investigators and NASA agents swooped in.

Classified as "national treasures", moon rocks are prohibited under federal law to be bought or sold. Robinson said "it's not all that unusual" for someone to try to sell a piece of the moon.

NASA's inspector general's office issues a report, twice per year, outlining what space trinkets were found on the black market. A recent report detailed the recovery of two rocket motors from the Apollo missions that put man on the moon; the motors were on sale on the Internet.

Astronauts who landed on the moon collected 2,415 samples of moon rocks weighing a total of 842 pounds. Most of these rocks were collected during the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions. In addition, three unmanned Soviet Luna spacecraft brought 0.66 pounds of lunar samples back to Earth, according to NASA's website.

Hundreds of tiny moon dust and rock samples were handed out as gifts to foreign nations and US states. Many of these remain unaccounted for.

In 2002, interns stole a small amount of moon rock from the Johnson Space Center in Houston. There have also been a number of cases of attempts to sell fake moon rocks.


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