Purported moon rock that woman tried to sell must be tested for authenticity, NASA says
"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.
The investigation, which spanned several months, led to a covert meeting in a Lake Elsinore restaurant on Grape Street where undercover NASA officials agreed to buy the rock for $1.7 million, according to a report by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.
When the woman produced the artifact, several Lake Elsinore police investigators and NASA agents swooped in.
Moon rocks are classified as "national treasures'' and federal law prohibits the sale of the artifacts.
Robinson said "it's not all that unusual" for someone to try to sell a piece of the moon.
Twice a year, the space agency's inspector general's office issues a report 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.
-- W.J. Hennigan and Phil Willon
Photo: A close-up view of Apollo 17 lunar rock sample No. 72255, which was brought back from the lunar surface by the final team of Apollo astronauts. A woman allegedly claiming to sell a moon rock was detained in Lake Elsinore on Thursday. Credit: NASA