Most of the Moon rocks collected by the Apollo astronauts and brought safely to Earth are locked up in a secure NASA facility, making Moon rock among the most valuable substances on Earth.
Which is why Thad Roberts’s theft of 101 grams of Moon rocks – valued at some $21 million dollars (£15m) – is one of the most audacious heists in history.
Roberts was a promising young student interning at NASA. He once said he hoped to be the first man on Mars, and with his remarkable intellect and movie-star good looks, he could have been just the kind of person chosen to spearhead NASA’s first mission to the Red Planet.
But Thad put paid to that dream on the night of July 13 2002. He had noticed that a sizeable quantity of Moon rocks were being kept at NASA’s lunar lab in Houston, Texas under somewhat insecure conditions.
He hatched a plan to steal the Moon rocks – at least in part because he wanted to lay them out on a bed and "have sex on the Moon".
He’d also been in communication with a Belgian amateur mineralogist who expressed a willingness to buy some of the rocks. What Thad didn’t know is that the mineralogist had contacted the FBI who took over his end of the deal and began to draw Thad into an elaborate sting operation.
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On the night of the crime, Thad, his girlfriend Tiffany Fowler, and their accomplice Shae Saur – all of whom were interns at NASA – simply used their official NASA to get into the building.
But a complication arose when it became clear that the storage of the rocks wasn’t as insecure as Thad initially believed.
He thought the combination to the safe the rocks were stored in had been written down on a tag tied to its handle. But when it came to the night of the heist, Thad and his accomplices discover that the NASA employee in charge of security had just written down a cryptic reminder of the code.
But they’d gone too far to stop. So the three students hauled the entire safe out of the building and onto the back of a waiting Jeep.
They drove their out-of-this-world loot to a nearby motel where they cracked open the safe with a power saw before Thad and his girlfriend scattered the stolen moon rocks across his bed and had sex on them.
To this day, they’re almost the only two people in history who have done that.
As well as the safe held a meteorite that could potentially have held the secret to life on Mars, and a collection of scientific research notes. According to the FBI’s report on the Moonrock caper, "The young thieves did more than just try to sell off a collection of lunar samples worth as much as $21 million. In the process, they also contaminated them – making them virtually useless to the scientific community.
"They also destroyed three decades' worth of handwritten research notes by a NASA scientist that had been locked in the safe."
Meanwhile, Thad, using the alias "Orb Robinson", had been in contact with somewhat that he thought was his Belgian contact and had negotiated the sale of the rocks for prices ranging up to $5,000 (£3.6k) a gram.
He agreed to meet the Belgian’s "American relatives" – in truth FBI agents – an Italian restaurant in Orlando, Florida, on the 33rd anniversary of the first Moon landing, July 20, 2002.
"There, Orb and two partners were arrested and the Moon rocks successfully recovered in their nearby hotel room," says the FBI report.
All three interns entered guilty pleas. Three months after his arrest Thad was sentenced to more than eight years in prison for his role in the Moonrock caper, as well as a separate offence of stealing dinosaur bones from a museum in Utah.
But Thad, now 44, used his time in jail well. He studied for degrees in physics, anthropology and philosophy from his cell, and has become a leading authority on the large-scale structure of the Universe.
He told the Daily Star that he’s tired of talking about his youthful misdemeanors. These days he wants to focus on his interpretation of an 11-dimensional geometric theory encompassing dark matter, dark energy, wave-particle duality, quantum tunneling, gravity, early-universe inflation, and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.
But no matter how widely his challenging new theories are accepted, he’ll always be first and foremost the man who "had sex on the Moon".
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