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Grandmother who tried to sell moon rock still not charged

October 24, 2011 | 10:05 am

MoonThis post has been corrected. See note at bottom for details.

Months after NASA investigators stormed into a Denny’s restaurant in Lake Elsinore and questioned a 74-year-old grandmother for trying to sell a moon rock, the case has apparently stalled. No charges have been filed and new questions have been raised about the government’s ability to keep track of the lunar material that was brought back to earth during the era of the Apollo missions.

The Associated Press is reporting that Joann Davis -- who says she was trying to sell the moon rock to raise money for her sick son -- has still not been charged in the case and government officials have declined to say why.

Davis said the lunar souvenir was given to her late husband by astronaut Neil Armstrong in the 1970s.

"It's a very upsetting thing," Davis told the Associated Press. "It's very detrimental, very humiliating, all of it a lie."

Over the years, NASA has given hundreds of rocks -- some large, some mere specks -- to nations, states and high-profile individuals, but always with the understanding that they remain government property.

NASA's inspector general works to arrest anyone trying to sell them.

Davis apparently triggered what appeared to be her own downfall by sending an email to an agent for the inspector general, the Associated Press said, citing a search warrant affidavit written by Norman Conley, the agent.

She emailed a NASA contractor on May 10 trying to find a buyer for the rock, as well as a hunk of the heat shield that protected the Apollo 11 space capsule as it returned to earth from the first successful manned mission to the moon in 1969.

"I've been searching the Internet for months attempting to find a buyer," Davis wrote, explaining she was trying to drum up a buy for the rock, as well as the heat shield.

"If you have any thoughts as to how I can proceed with the sale of these two items, please call," she wrote.

Apparently agents did have some thoughts on that, and arranged a rendezvous at the Denny’s, where Davis was questioned

Conley declined to comment and NASA Office of the Inspector General spokeswoman Renee Juhans said she could not talk about an ongoing investigation, the Associated Press said.

Davis was eventually allowed to go home -- without the moon rock, of course -- and was never booked into a police station.

While bigger rocks, such as those given to various countries and museums were carefully tracked, it now appears there are unknown numbers of much smaller pieces circulating in the public, the wire service reported.

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 put up for sale on the Internet.

In 2002, three interns at the Johnson Space Center in Houston stole a 600-pound safe with moon rock from the Apollo landings. They tried to sell pieces on the Internet for up to $5,000 a gram and were nabbed in an undercover FBI sting.

All three were convicted.

Astronauts who landed on the moon collected 2,415 samples of rocks weighing a total of 842 pounds. Most of these rocks were collected during the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions.

[For the Record: Oct. 24, 3 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported that Joann Davis was handcuffed by authorities. She was not.]


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Photo: Buzz Aldrin was among the astronauts to reach the moon during the Apollo era. Credit: Associated Press