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  NASA busts woman selling $1.7M moon rock (Page 1)

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Author Topic:   NASA busts woman selling $1.7M moon rock
Robert Pearlman
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posted 05-26-2011 08:55 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
collectSPACE
NASA busts woman selling $1.7M moon rock

A woman's attempt to sell a purported $1.7 million moon rock was thwarted last week when the buyer she met with turned out to be an undercover agent working for NASA.

The sting, which according to the Riverside County (Calif.) Sheriff's Dept. came after several months of investigation, took place at a Denny's restaurant in Lake Elsinore, Calif., about 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

The woman, who authorities did not identify, was detained but not arrested pending the "moon rock" being verified as being of lunar origin...

Tykeanaut
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posted 05-26-2011 09:03 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tykeanaut   Click Here to Email Tykeanaut     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Didn't realise a woman had been to the moon?

spaced out
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posted 05-26-2011 09:41 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for spaced out   Click Here to Email spaced out     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
$1.7M would buy you an awful lot of lunar rock in the form of lunar meteorites.

Still it will be interesting to see if this rock turns out to be non-lunar, lunar but meteoritic, or actually Apollo-returned material.

SpaceAholic
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posted 05-26-2011 10:17 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Tykeanaut:
Didn't realise a woman had been to the moon?
6 have (ships are "she's")

Lunar rock nut
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posted 05-27-2011 06:47 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lunar rock nut   Click Here to Email Lunar rock nut     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Even if it is not a moon rock that is still a serious fraud attempt.

Jay Chladek
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posted 06-29-2011 12:13 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Wow, I had no idea Alice Kramden was still alive and that her husband Ralph had made good on his "You wanna go to the moon!?" threat.

mjanovec
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posted 06-29-2011 12:15 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mjanovec   Click Here to Email mjanovec     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Has there been any developments in this case? With the stolen moon dust topic having recently come up, I can't help but wonder if the moon rock in this particular case was found to be authentic (or not).

Robert Pearlman
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posted 06-29-2011 12:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
According to the NASA Office of the Inspector General, as an open investigation, no further information will be released to the public until either charges are pressed or the case is otherwise closed. To date, it appears neither has happened.

SpaceAholic
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posted 10-24-2011 11:05 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The Associated Press reports that a NASA sting that recovered a "speck of lunar dust smaller than a grain of rice" terrified the 74-year-old female suspect.
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 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."

...Davis told AP [the moon rock was] 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.

Davis claims Armstrong gave the items to her husband, though the affidavit says the first man on the moon has previously told investigators he never gave or sold lunar material to anyone.

In follow-up phone conversations with a NASA agent, Davis acknowledged the rock was not sellable on the open market and fretted about an agent knocking on her door and taking the material, which she was willing to sell for "big money underground."

"She must know that this is a questionable transaction because she used the term `black market,'" Agent Conley states in the search warrant.

Glint
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posted 10-24-2011 11:08 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glint   Click Here to Email Glint     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Poor Mr. Armstrong. Why did she have to go and drag him into it?

capoetc
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posted 10-24-2011 12:08 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for capoetc   Click Here to Email capoetc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Of course, it is possible that her husband told her that it was a moon rock given to him by Neil Armstrong...

If so, however, it sounds like she still understood it was illegal to own or sell moon rocks.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-24-2011 12:55 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote

Credit: U.S. District Court for the Central District of California

Above: This image displayed on a search warrant provided by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California shows a very small piece of moon rock, center, taken from Joann Davis during a sting operation where NASA investigators and local agents swooped into a Denny's restaurant to detain Davis, trying to sell a moon rock. (AP)

Greggy_D
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posted 10-24-2011 01:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Greggy_D   Click Here to Email Greggy_D     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If the moon rock is real, how did she or her husband come into possession of it?

Spacepsycho
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posted 10-24-2011 01:53 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Spacepsycho   Click Here to Email Spacepsycho     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
What is the NASA law that specifically addresses the illegality of anyone owning lunar material brought back from the Apollo missions?

It seems a bit excessive to use a SWAT team to arrest a 74 year old woman and it's not like she was Al-Queda or selling nuclear material for a dirty bomb.

SpaceAholic
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posted 10-24-2011 02:02 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Don't believe there is a specific law addressing Apollo lunar samples. Instead broad generic statues are being applied in conjunction with agency policy.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-24-2011 02:04 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Spacepsycho:
Do you have a link to the NASA law that specifically addresses the illegality of anyone owning lunar material brought back from the Apollo missions?
Scott is correct; there is no "moon rock law." Per an FBI briefing document, it falls under the general theft statute, 18 USC 641.
The statute is broad, covering many types of theft: outright stealing, embezzlement, receiving of stolen goods as well as pilfering. It covers anything of value to the United States or any of its agencies. If the federal government can prove that a moon rock was knowingly converted to an unauthorized use or sold to another without authority, the statute is violated. Assuming the value of the lunar material is in excess of $1,000, the violation is a felony.
Ms. Davis was not arrested, nor have charges been filed.
Several local police officers and NASA OIG agents then moved in on the suspect, took possession of the alleged moon rock and detained the woman for questioning.

Fezman92
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posted 10-24-2011 02:09 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Fezman92   Click Here to Email Fezman92     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This image displayed on a search warrant provided by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California shows a very small piece of moon rock...
That is really small. How could someone not lose it?

Glint
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posted 10-24-2011 02:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glint   Click Here to Email Glint     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Fezman92:
That is really small. How could someone not lose it?

According to the original article, it's encased within an acrylic.

fredtrav
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posted 10-24-2011 02:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for fredtrav   Click Here to Email fredtrav     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The better question, who would buy it without some ironclad provenance and chain of custody documents. It may be a moon rock from Apollo but if you can not prove it then it is not worth anything. To simply say Neil Armstrong gave it to my husband proves nothing.

I am not saying it is a fake but I could not see paying big bucks for it.

ilbasso
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posted 10-24-2011 02:28 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ilbasso   Click Here to Email ilbasso     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Had to laugh that this attempted $1.7 million transaction took place in a Denny's. How many bad movies had she seen to think that this was a good idea?

Spacepsycho
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posted 10-24-2011 03:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Spacepsycho   Click Here to Email Spacepsycho     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I don't believe that Neil Armstrong gave this award away, but it would be interesting to find out how pieces like this were made and obtained.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-24-2011 03:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I am going to ask we try to keep this thread focused on this specific story and not other moon rock cases or other situations.

I am also going to suggest that we (myself included) restrain from trying to draw anecdotal comparisons or providing a layman's reading of the law, as it creates a real chance of (inadvertent) misinformation.

MrSpace86
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posted 10-24-2011 04:49 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for MrSpace86   Click Here to Email MrSpace86     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I am also curious as to how many of those lunar pieces exist. If it is in some sort of acrylic, sure there may be more as NASA knew what it was. I mean, you would need to remove it from the acrylic to determine if it is legit lunar material.

fredtrav
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posted 10-24-2011 05:32 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for fredtrav   Click Here to Email fredtrav     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by ilbasso:
Had to laugh that this attempted $1.7 million transaction took place in a Denny's.
In the tale of the missing Honduran moon rock that was recovered and returned to Honduras, the buyer at the time, Mr. Rosen, also met an agent of the seller at a Denny's to give him a payment towards the sale. Maybe they should hold the next space auction at Denny's.

Maybe they should have a moon rock special to go along with their Grand Slam.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-24-2011 05:34 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by MrSpace86:
I am also curious as to how many of those lunar pieces exist. If it is in some sort of acrylic, sure there may be more as NASA knew what it was.
As best as I can tell, the lunar sample has yet to be positively identified as such. The Associated Press makes reference to an "authenticated moon rock" but later states that NASA "could not talk about an ongoing investigation" and "so far they have not publicly revealed any proof."

When the alleged moon fleck was first seized, NASA acknowledged that it needed to be tested.

I also see nothing to suggest that this was a NASA acrylic. Contractor employees created artifact displays, some of them homemade, others more professionally crafted, and many had no NASA involvement at all. This could be a one-off piece.

MrSpace86
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posted 10-24-2011 06:11 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for MrSpace86   Click Here to Email MrSpace86     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
This could be a one-off piece.
Hmmm... I agree. It does look rather crude and weird.

music_space
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posted 10-24-2011 06:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for music_space   Click Here to Email music_space     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I see a pattern here. They decided to go after every piece of privately-owned lunar material in descending order of suspects' age!

A question for all: would you (if technically possible) remove the Lucite cover to be able to analyse the sample and enjoy touching it?

Bill Hunt
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posted 10-24-2011 11:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Bill Hunt   Click Here to Email Bill Hunt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Here's my response to all this: It's a freaking sliver of dust, from which absolutely nothing can be learned that hasn't already been learned. Doesn't the U.S. Government and law enforcement agencies have ANYTHING better to be doing with their time?

p51
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posted 10-24-2011 11:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Spacepsycho:
It seems a bit excessive to use a SWAT team to arrest a 74 year old woman and it's not like she was Al-Queda or selling nuclear material for a dirty bomb.
It isn't excessive at all if said 74-year-old has one of grandsons nearby. The very same people who think of a response as 'excessive' are always the ones who feel you weren't excessive enough if something goes wrong and you weren't ready for it. You just never know what you're going to find in a situation like this.

Anyone with police or military training will likely say that a SWAT team is probably a good response to something like this; selling possibly stolen government property for over a million bucks. What you would you say if you were the lone cop responding to this and somehow she gets away or you lose the sample (which is far more likely)? Nobody is going to risk that. Anyone responding to this is going to think of ALL possible outcomes and say, "Not on my watch!"

Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-25-2011 03:25 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Bill Hunt:
Doesn't the U.S. Government and law enforcement agencies have ANYTHING better to be doing with their time?
I can understand your perspective, but according to the information we have about this case, Davis seems to have brought this investigation upon herself. She contacted a NASA contractor for assistance selling the moon rock and reportedly told a NASA agent that she knew the rock was not sellable on the open market and she was willing to sell for "big money underground."

If that account is accurate, then she admitted knowledge of the law and a desire to circumvent it.

quote:
Originally posted by p51:
...a SWAT team is probably a good response to something like this
Just to be clear, though Ms. Davis has said in interviews that the officers looked like a SWAT team, they were "half a dozen sheriff's deputies and NASA investigators."

jimsz
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posted 10-25-2011 07:50 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for jimsz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA and the government should have larger issues to deal with than an old lady trying to sell a sliver of a rock.

If she could convince a moron to pay her 1.7 million, good for her.

fredtrav
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posted 10-25-2011 10:25 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for fredtrav   Click Here to Email fredtrav     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I disagree in this case that the government has other thing to do besides going after on old lady. If the "rock" is a fake, then she is trying to commit a rather serious fraud. That is clearly against the law. If a person created and sold you a fake Apollo 11 signed crew portrait for $6,000, for example, you would want the help of someone in law enforcement to stop that person from selling other fakes he created as well as getting your money back.

If it is real and she came by it legally, then yes there is a bit of overreaction. The problem is that if it is real, there is no precedence in a person owning a bit of moon rock that was not gifted to another country. While some allege that some rocks were given as presentations, NASA says no, and none of these have surfaced. If Neil Armstrong did indeed give the rock to her husband (which I strongly doubt), and he wishes to acknowledge it, he will have to explain how he came to be in possession of it.

In this case, the government is right to have launched this investigation, if for no other reason than to stop a fraud. If the rock is real and she can show legal ownership, then it will have to be returned to her. She was not arrested, and if the rock is hers and is from the moon, I dare say this whole episode will result in her getting even more money for it.

SpaceAholic
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posted 10-25-2011 10:41 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If it's real and returned via Apollo the government still owns it (any federal employee who gifted/released it to a private individual did so in contravention of agency policy and national statute).

jimsz
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posted 10-25-2011 11:50 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for jimsz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by fredtrav:
If a person created and sold you a fake Apollo 11 signed crew portrait for $6,000, for example, you would want the help of someone in law enforcement to stop that person from selling other fakes he created as well as getting your money back.

Poor analogy. There are ways to authenticate signatures and photographs. Anyone buying a rock that is claimed to be form the moon is obviously buyer beware.

This simply comes across as an overreaction to something minor that is typical of the government (and NASA?).

If there were a many people involved in this matter as claimed, just what is the total government cost to pursue this?

Waste of time and money and further tarnishing of NASA.

spaced out
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posted 10-25-2011 12:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for spaced out   Click Here to Email spaced out     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The reference to Armstrong is almost certainly bogus but quite likely to be what her husband told her at the time.

I can't tell you how many times I've told people their Armstrong signed pieces are Autopenned only to be told that it's impossible because their husband/father who worked at NASA met Armstrong who signed it in front of him.

If this piece really does contain a crumb of lunar material it was likely produced in secret by an individual who knew he'd be in big trouble if discovered. In any case what's the guy likely to say to his wife and kids when he brings it home? That it came from 'a guy who knew a guy who has a cousin who was a janitor who was clearing up the LRL and found a tiny bit of rock in his boot that may have come from the car park or may be a bit of moon rock'... or that it was 'a gift from Neil Armstrong'?

fredtrav
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posted 10-25-2011 01:03 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for fredtrav   Click Here to Email fredtrav     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by jimsz:
Poor analogy.
I do not think it is a poor analogy. Of course there are ways to authenticate a signature. However how many very knowledgeable collectors were taken in by forgeries of Armstrong signatures.

A moon rock is also able to be authenticated. A bit more trouble to be sure, and I agree anyone who buys one from a woman who got it from someone etc. is a moron but it is still against the law to dupe a moron out of $1.7 million.

She apparently either knew the rock was fake or at the least she shouldn't have it by telling an agent that she had to sell it on the black market or something like that.

chet
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posted 10-25-2011 02:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for chet   Click Here to Email chet     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A swarm of federal agents to apprehend a 74-year-old woman in a Denny's and an ongoing investigation to discern the actual composition of something smaller than a grain of rice doesn't seem a good use of taxpayer funded resources...but maybe it's just me.

Not saying this shouldn't have been treated seriously, but a couple of agents to sit and speak with her at the Denny's seems all that was necessary, but that wouldn't have generated the same publicity, would it now?

Spacepsycho
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posted 10-26-2011 11:41 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Spacepsycho   Click Here to Email Spacepsycho     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Scott, what would your position be if it was discovered that Apollo lunar material was gifted to individuals by NASA in the 70's?

I'm not saying that Apollo lunar rocks should be taken out of the lab safes and distributed, but if a small moon rock(s) were put in resin/lucite and gifted by NASA, shouldn't they remain as private property? It seems to me the federal statue everyone is quoting, doesn't cover an item that was "legally" gifted, but pertains to things intentionally misappropriated.

My real concern is the NASA OIG is using a nebulous and intentionally vague law, that has no scope or focus, in order to confiscate anything they deem "illegal", when in fact it was legally obtained back in the day.

As you're well aware, there were many thousands of artifacts from every program that were thrown out, scrapped without paperwork, given away and legally taken by workers and management. Who's to say that these workers stole or were given or took things out of the dumpster, did so with the intent of defrauding or ripping off the government? Back in the day, nobody cared about these pieces, they were expendable and if taken home by a worker, was a reminder of their devotion and hard work.

From what I've seen, thank God these workers took pieces home when the programs were cancelled, because there are so many artifacts that would have ended up in the dump. I've spoken to so many guys who've told stories about tons of hardware that was thrown in the garbage. They asked managers if they could have a piece or two and were told "take whatever you want, it's all going in the garbage".

I would like to have some clarity, focus and narrowing of the law that allows the NASA OIG to confiscate artifacts as they want. I'm not speaking about moon rocks, but even federal law has a statue of limitations for everything except murder. At some point there has to be a timeframe where legally obtained artifacts, (dumpster diving is legal) are no longer confiscated at the whim of the government.

SpaceAholic
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posted 10-26-2011 11:55 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Spacepsycho:
What would your position be if it was discovered that Apollo lunar material was gifted to individuals by NASA in the 70's?
What do you mean "by NASA"? The agency is/was comprised of a huge staff of federal personnel (and contractors), 99.99% of which would not have had the authority to release government property.

Whether I agree that prosecution of a 74 year old lady for a speck of dust represents best use of tax dollars is irrelevant - my point is the government has legal standing to do so.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-26-2011 12:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Spacepsycho:
I'm not saying that Apollo lunar rocks should be taken out of the lab safes and distributed, but if a small moon rock(s) were put in resin/lucite and gifted by NASA, shouldn't they remain as private property?
If these were gifts, where are the presentation certificates? Where are the memos documenting the creation and presentation of these gifts?

NASA created certificates to present flags, patches, flown hardware, medallions and more. There are memos in the archives today that discuss the creation and distribution of these mementos. Why would NASA have acted any differently when it came to lunar material?

These supposed moon rock "gifts" commonly share similar stories. For example, the claim an astronaut gifted the moon rock to the individual. Strangely though, the recipients can't remember when and where they were when they received it. You'd think that would be something they'd recall.


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