Thursday, July 14, 2011

Stealing moon rocks from NASA

Moon Rocks
RETURNING from vacation in the summer of 2002, NASA geochemist Dr Everett Gibson learned that a 275-kilogram safe had vanished from his lab. Situated in one of the most secure buildings on the planet, the lab was an implausible target for even the world's greatest crime syndicates - despite the fact that the Apollo lunar samples were stored there and the street price of moon rocks was estimated at about $5 million per gram.

The theft of the safe, which contained 101.5 grams of material, including samples from every lunar landing, was in fact stranger and more pedestrian than anyone could have imagined. Late one night, three NASA interns wheeled the safe into a borrowed Jeep, planning to hawk the material to a Belgian buyer they had found online. Within days they were caught, turned in by the Belgian and arrested in an FBI sting.

After serving a six-year prison sentence, Thad Roberts - the "mastermind" of this unmasterly crime - called Ben Mezrich, bestselling author of The Accidental Billionaires, seeking to reveal his side of the story. Trumped up by Mezrich as "one of the biggest heists in US history", Sex on the Moon is the entertaining yet unsatisfying result of that collaboration.

Mezrich relates Roberts's life as a thriller. Cast out by his Mormon family for premarital sex, Roberts finds direction by resolving to become an astronaut. He studies hard and lands a coveted internship at NASA's Johnson Space Center, where he impresses fellow interns with pranks such as sneaking into the space shuttle simulator. In his third semester, he falls in love with a new intern. "I want to give you the moon," he tells her.

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