The Sciences

Moonrock-Peddling Grandma Feels the Cold Hand of the Interplanetary Police

DiscoblogBy Veronique GreenwoodOct 24, 2011 5:05 PM


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The warrant for Davis's arrest sports a snapshot of the contraband--- a paperweight containing a fleck of the moon.

The zany world of moonrock theft and recovery

has produced some of the stranger science-related stories in recent years---you know, like "NASA interns steal safe of moonrocks and spread them on hotel bed to have sex amongst them

" strange. The case of the grandma apprehended by federal agents in a Riverside County Denny's with a moonrock paperweight, explored at length in an AP exclusive

, is a fitting entry in this pantheon of interplanetary skulduggery. To make some extra cash, Joann Davis, 74, the widow of a contractor who worked with NASA during the Apollo moon mission era, decided to find an online buyer for a tiny moon fragment she says her husband received as a gift from Neil Armstrong (Armstrong has denied giving anyone such lunar souvenirs). It's illegal to sell Apollo moonrocks, which are all US government property and thus can't be used to turn a profit. Davis apparently had a hard time finding taker for the plastic-encased shard, because she ultimately emailed NASA to ask if they had any tips on selling the things. "I've been searching the internet for months attempting to find a buyer," Davis wrote in May, the AP reports

. "If you have any thoughts as to how I can proceed with the sale of these two items, please call." Let me just give you a pointer, reader: when selling contraband, don't contact the people it came from. They will probably want to make your acquaintance in the very near future.

So NASA set up a sting operation and had an agent contact her about buying the object. Davis apparently knew that selling moonrocks was not kosher, because according the warrant for her arrest, she told the buyer (aka a NASA agent) that she was willing to sell it for "big money underground" and referenced the black market. After closing the deal for $1.7 million, Davis headed to a Denny's in Southern California for the handoff---and was shocked to find herself suddenly swarmed by federal agents who confiscated the moonrock. She told the AP that they also bruised her when they pulled her from her booth and scared her so much she peed her pants. Oddly enough, it's now been five months since the fateful events in the Denny's, and Davis hasn't been charged with a crime, nor has NASA given any inkling of whether they'll move the case forward. The moonrock, however, remains in their possession.

Image courtesy of U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, via AP

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