to one of the most down-to-earth places: a family restaurant in southern California.
But at the end of the sting operation, agents were left holding a speck of lunar dust smaller than a grain of rice and a 73-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 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, now 74, told a news agency. "It`s very detrimental, very humiliating, all of it a lie."
The strange case centres 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.
NASA`s inspector general works to arrest anyone trying to sell them.
The case was triggered by Davis herself, according to a search warrant affidavit written by Norman Conley, an agent for the inspector general.
She emailed a NASA contractor on 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.