The New Stuff

Woman Attempts To Sell Moon Rock For $1.7 Million


LOS ANGELES, California ~ (AP) ~ A woman who tried to sell an alleged piece of the moon for $1.7 million was detained when her buyer turned out to be an undercover agent from NASA, according to officials.

NASA investigators and Riverside County Sheriff's deputies detained the woman after she met Thursday with an undercover NASA investigator at a restaurant in Lake Elsinore, about 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles. The investigation into the shady transaction had been ongoing for several months; authorities swooped in on the woman when she actually pulled out the rock after agreeing on a price. Authorities from NASA have not released her identity as she has not yet been formally charged.

 
NASA plans 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 the space agency. Joseph Gutheinz, a University of Arizona instructor and former NASA investigator who has spent years tracking down missing moon rocks, said a lunar curator at a special lab at Johnson Space Center would carry out the testing. Gutheinz said the woman could face theft charges if the rock is genuine, or fraud charges if it is not. Among the substances the rock could contain is armalcolite, a mineral first discovered on the moon and named for Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, who was on the Apollo 11 lunar mission crew.

About 2,200 samples of lunar rocks, core samples, pebbles, sand and dust — weighing about 840 pounds — were brought to Earth by six out of seven of 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 samples. NASA houses 70 percent of its lunar rock and soil samples at Johnson Space Center in Houston, and another 14 percent are in New Mexico. The rest are either on loan for study or display, or are unaccounted for. Gutheinz said most purported moon rocks for sale turn out to be terrestrial-based fakes. In 2009, the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands confirmed that one of its rocks was a fake and not a lunar artifact, and a rock presented to Honduras was recovered in a 1998 NASA sting after a Miami collector offered $5 million for it.

Photo credit: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

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