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Granny: NASA scared me into returning moon rock

The sting was at Denny's. NASA agents safely recovered a tiny sliver of moon rock from a grandmother who says her late husband received it from Neil Armstrong--and she had wanted $1.7 million for it.

If you happen to find yourself at a bar on a Monday, it's nice to hear stories that will warm the heart as quickly as your pinot noir.

This may not be one of those stories. Indeed, the tale of NASA, Joann Davis, and the tiny piece of moon rock, might make you question the content of the space between some people's ears.

As the Associated Press tells it, NASA operatives turned up at a Denny's in Lake Elsinore, Ca., in order to enjoy one of their fine Big Cheese Country-Fried Steak and Eggs.

Well, almost. In fact, they were there in order to take back a tiny piece of moon rock--part of a paperweight--from 74-year-old Joann Davis. She was--in NASA's view--in unlawful possession of this vital item.

So imagine something like this, but very, very small. CC Jurvetson/Flickr

Davis, you see, had contacted NASA to ask advice about where to sell such items. She told the AP she needed money because her son is ill.

She reportedly believes the rock--smaller than a grain of rice--was her property. She told the AP that Neil Armstrong had himself given it to her late husband, who had been a space engineer contracted to NASA. However, it is possible that Davis knew that selling moon rocks might not be legal.

The AP has seen NASA's search warrant, which alleges that Davis said she would sell the item for "big money underground." It also alleges that she agreed to sell the tiny piece of rock to NASA for $1.7 million. This seems like quite a lot for something rather small.

Still, this transaction necessitated a sting operation at one of America's finest 24-hour gourmet establishments. But at least the operatives didn't need to have menacing men in flak vests on hand in order to grapple with a senior citizen.

They reportedly did. There were half a dozen NASA investigators and sheriff's deputies on hand. Davis said she was so scared that her bladder gave way and she had deep bruises caused by the way she was manhandled.

"They grabbed me and pulled me out of the booth," she told the AP.

While reportedly neither NASA nor the agents would comment, Davis was finally let go without caution or charge. And this was five months ago. NASA's view, though, appears to be that all moon rock is government property. In addition, astronaut Armstrong allegedly claims he never gave moon rock to anyone.

Yet there is ample evidence that some moon rock wasn't looked after by NASA and might well have been given away to all sorts of people by all sorts of people. Ten states and 90 countries apparently have no idea where their little pieces of outer space might be.

In any case, many might find it deeply other-worldly that NASA would feel the need to shake down a grandmother in this way. And at Denny's.

It's not a surprise that Davis has consulted earthbound legal representatives, if only to discover whether NASA can prove that her speck of the moon is, indeed, government property.

Might it at least have been an idea for NASA to explain to her that this was not rightly hers, instead of mounting what appears to be a very expensive, heavy-handed, and slightly cheesy expedition?

Some might find it a very small-minded step for mankind.