Sex on the Moon
Nope, not a cocktail at a space bar.
In June of 2002 (ah the simpler times) NASA interns stole more than $20 million worth of moon rocks and Martian meteorite samples. Motives include: the money, the bragging rights, and, apparently, crossing off “sex on the moon” from their bucket list… what the heck is going on here?
That’s the subject of this week’s insane Nibble, friends, but, before we launch into it, here’s the answer to this week’s Whodunnit!
A man killed his wife. Many people watched him do it. Yet, no one could accuse him of the murder of his wife. Why?
Answer: He was a public executioner!
And now… let’s go steal some moon rocks!
The team consisted of 4 players:
The leader: Thad Roberts (that’s right, his name is THAD.) A triple major in physics, geology, and geophysics, as well as the founder of the Utah Astronomical Society, Roberts also had an adrenaline-seeking side. He was consumed by goals such as experience zero gravity and experience severe dehydration, and the general consensus is that his ego got the best of him.
The second in command: Tiffany Fowler, an equally dynamic individual (who Roberts was having an affair with.) A former cheerleader who conducted stem cell research for NASA, it was apparently Roberts and Fowler who ended up “having sex on the moon” (or having sex on a bed with a bunch of moon rocks underneath/around them…)
Accomplice 1 & Accomplice 2: Shae Saur and Gordon McWhorter. The details are a bit messy as to the exact reasons these two joined into the heist but the main thought seems obvious… the money. But it didn’t work out that way. According to Saur:
“Being an astronaut [was] something I had planned to do and aspired to do my entire life. My own actions have shattered that dream.”
How did it all go wrong??
The night of the robbery, in the middle of the night, Roberts and Fowler ducked inside a bathroom, swapping their clothing for 2mm thick neoprene bodysuits. Like a scene from a bad heist film, the suits help the interns avoid heat sensors armed to combat climate changes inside the vault that contains their prize: moon rocks. The pair used knowledge of the security around the rocks to remove a 600lb safe containing the samples.
According to the FBI records on this case, not only did they steal the moon rocks, contaminating the samples, “making them virtually useless to the scientific community,” but they also destroyed three decades worth of handwritten research notes by a NASA scientist that had been locked in the safe.
The team advertised the stolen goods on a Belgian mineralogy club website that was pretty immediately forwarded to the FBI. They set up a sting, and on July 20th, 2002, (which also happened to be the 33rd anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing,) FBI agents arrested the whole squad and recovered the lunar samples. Roberts was also charged with stealing dinosaur bones from the University of Utah. (He seems like a real winner)
Everyone pled guilty, and Roberts was sentenced to more than eight years in prison. He, oddly enough, ended up using that time in prison to both teach his fellow inmates about quantum physics, as well as complete his book entitled Einstein’s Intuition: Visualizing an Eleven-Dimensional Framework of Nature, an Introduction to Quantum Space Theory… the book has yet to be published.
However, the theft obviously gained a fair amount of attention and became the subject of Ben Mezrich’s book, Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in History. The National Geographic channel Explorer also covered the story in a special called “Million Dollar Moon Rock Heist” that was broadcast in 2012.
What’s interesting about these two pieces of media in particular is that much of the testimony is at odds over key claims about the incident…
Deeper Dives into Space
If this story hooked you and you’d like to formulate your own opinions on the motives and why’s of it all, launch yourself into some of the extra goods below:
-Andy & Mark
Thanks for reading Mystery Nibbles!
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