If NASA can put a man on the moon, rest confidently they can plan an elaborate sting to nab a moon rock thief. NASA recently managed to outwit the 74 year-old grandmother who was attempting to sell a piece of Apollo-era moon rock about the size of a grain of rice for approximately $1.7 million dollars.
Here's the thing. Apparently it is against the law to sell government property — and an Apollo-era moon rock is probably the mother of all government property next to the alien spacecraft in Area 51. The grandmother, Joann Davis claims she obtained the moon rock, encased in a plastic dome, from her now deceased husband who worked as an engineer on an Apollo mission. It was Neil Armstrong himself, she claims, who gave her husband the rock.
Recently deciding to sell the rock to help out her sick son, and to leave an inheritance for her family, David began putting out feelers on the Internet. Unfortunately for her, on the other end of the interwebs happened to be a NASA contractor who in turn notified his employers.
And so the con was on. Responding to interest in the rock, Davis referred to the "black market" and "underground" leading investigators to believe she knew that selling the rock was a crime. She went ahead with negotiations and set up a meeting with the NASA buyers at her local Denny's restaurant.
The story then unfolds quickly. Davis digs out the rock. NASA authorities descend. A petrified Davis pees her pants (true story). And so, the famous moon rock was returned to the public trust.
Months after the sting operation, no official charges have been laid in the case. It seems that NASA employees do actually give paperweight gifts out like the one in the case, but Armstrong denies he ever gave a moon rock away. And, as a NASA employee admits, if they weren't able to keep track of the rocks in the first place, then they can't really find too much fault with someone who ended up with one. Apparently it's just that tricky business about trying to profit from it.
In the clear light of day, we somehow think Joann learned her lesson and we are relieved science's top minds can look skyward once again.