LOS ANGELES — She promised the moon, for a sky-high price. He wasn't buying.
A woman who tried to sell what she said was a rare piece of moon rock for $1.7 million was detained when her would-be buyer turned out to be an undercover NASA agent, officials said Friday.
The gray rocks, which are considered national treasures and are illegal to sell, were given to each U.S. state and 136 countries by then-President Richard Nixon after U.S. moon missions and can sell for millions of dollars on the black market.
NASA investigators and Riverside County sheriff's deputies detained the woman after she met Thursday with an undercover NASA investigator at a restaurant in Lake Elsinore, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles, the sheriff's office said. The investigation was conducted over several months.
Authorities swooped after the two agreed on a price and the woman, whose name has not been released, pulled out the rock.
NASA planned to conduct tests to determine whether the rock came from the moon as the woman claimed.
"We don't know if it's lunar material," said Gail Robinson, deputy inspector general at the space agency.
Joseph Gutheinz, a University of Phoenix instructor and former NASA investigator who has spent years tracking down missing moon rocks, said a lunar curator at a special lab at Johnson Space Center would carry out the testing. Among the substances the rock could contain is armalcolite, a mineral first discovered on the moon and named for Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, who was on the Apollo 11 lunar mission crew.
The woman has not been arrested or charged. It was unknown how she obtained the rock or came to the attention of NASA.
Gutheinz said the woman could face theft charges if the rock is genuine, or fraud charges if it is not.
Space news from NBCNews.com
Teen's space mission fueled by social media
Science editor Alan Boyle's blog: "Astronaut Abby" is at the controls of a social-media machine that is launching the 15-year-old from Minnesota to Kazakhstan this month for the liftoff of the International Space Station's next crew.
- Buzz Aldrin's vision for journey to Mars
- Giant black hole may be cooking up meals
- Watch a 'ring of fire' solar eclipse online
- Teen's space mission fueled by social media
About 2,200 samples of lunar rocks, core samples, pebbles, sand and dust — weighing about 840 pounds (380 kilograms) — were brought to Earth by NASA's Apollo lunar landing missions from 1969 to 1972. A recent count showed 10 states and more than 90 countries could not account for their shares of the gray rocks.
Gutheinz said most purported moon rocks offered for sale on the Internet are bogus, though authentic moon rocks can be purchased if they came to Earth in a meteorite.
NASA houses 70 percent of its lunar rock and soil samples at Johnson Space Center, and another 14 percent are in New Mexico. The rest are either on loan for study or display — or are unaccounted for.
In 2009, the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands confirmed that one of its rocks was a fake and not an artifact collected by the Apollo 11 crew.
A rock presented to Honduras was recovered in a 1998 NASA sting after a Miami collector offered $5 million for it.
Associated Press writer Thomas Watkins contributed to this report.
© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.