The elaborate moon rock sting mission was led by NASA agents to recover a moon rock in a highly-secret sting operation. It all went down at a small local Denny’s restaurant in Riverside County, California. However, at the end of the mission, agents were left holding a speck of lunar dust smaller than a grain of rice and a 74-year-old suspect who was terrified by armed officials.
Five months after NASA investigators and local agents swooped into the restaurant and hailed their operation as a cautionary tale for anyone trying to sell a national treasure, no charges have been filed, NASA isn’t talking, and the case appears stalled.
The target, Joann Davis, a grandmother who says she was trying to raise money for her sick son, asserts the lunar material was rightfully hers, having been given to her space-engineer husband by 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.”
The strange case centers on a speck of authenticated moon rock encased in an acrylic-looking dome that appears to be a paperweight. For years, NASA has gone after anyone selling lunar material gathered on the Apollo missions because it is considered government property, so cannot be sold for profit. Still, NASA has given hundreds of lunar samples to nations, states and high-profile individuals but only on the understanding they remain government property.
The case was triggered by Davis herself after she emailed a NASA contractor May 10 trying to find a buyer for the rock, as well as a nickel-sized piece 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.
Davis told AP the items were among many of the space-related heirlooms her husband left her when he died in 1986. She said she had worked as a lexicographer, and he had worked as an engineer for North American Rockwell, which contracted for NASA during the Apollo era.
In follow-up phone conversations with a NASA agent, Davis acknowledged the rock was not sellable on the open market, and she was willing to sell it for “big money underground.” NASA investigators then arranged the sting, where Conley met with Davis and her current husband at the Denny’s in Riverside County.
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