Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sex On The Moon: The Amazing Story Behind The Most Audacious Heist In History / by Ben Mezirch

Thad Roberts was the quintessential brainy guy with not a lot of moral intelligence. Born in Utah to a devout Mormon family, he soon followed a different path--he was actually kicked out of the house in his teen years for engaging in premarital sex. Though certainly smart enough, endowed with the natural gifts to excel academically, he could never quite get past the juvenile hijinks of his formative years and wound up in his early twenties aimless, jobless and unhappily married. Somehow Roberts managed to gain entry into a course of study at the University of Utah where he demonstrated enough prowess to ultimately earn a coveted summer internship with NASA in Houston. He spent three summers doing the rounds at the Johnson Space Center, working with the spacehab and biology personnel during the day and living it up in his off hours, supervising recreational activities and partying at the local hotspots (it's not hard to recognize a lot of familiar haunts) with his fellow interns.

In 2002, out of little more than a desire to impress a girl (not his former wife), Roberts stumbled upon a seemingly inane, though obviously appealing enough plan to steal some of the original moon rocks obtained during the Apollo missions from a loosely secured safe at the JSC main site. That he got away with it wasn't such a big deal--he and his girlfriend actually drove the 600 ib. safe off the site in their Jeep Cherokee--until he tried selling the rocks on the black market, a move inevitably garnering attention from a curious precious metals dealer who, upon verification of the rocks' authenticity, alerted the FBI. It wasn't long before Roberts and his girlfriend as well as a third party were arrested, tried and convicted. Roberts got 8 years in a federal prison while his accomplices got off with relatively lighter sentences, doing probation and forbidden from any type of government employment.

Writer Ben Mezrich does an nice job of rallying interest in the space program even having missed the boat by a few decades and he well-captures Roberts mindless enthusiasm though that's a bit of a problem in itself; Roberts is kind of a mixed bag that we never quite nail down. If the bulk of the narrative is to be believed, he's a bonafide life-of-the-party type A personality with a bent towards self-destructive choices and a penchant for hustling naive women. Yet you have to wonder at the sheer lunacy of some of his decision-making--stealing the rocks is one thing but exposing himself by trying to sell them is exceedingly stupid--as well as the inner-dynamics of his flighty relationships and a spotty academic background prior to NASA, all things the book doesn't quite cover well enough. This isn't the author's best outing (it may have been something the publisher pushed for). The Accidental Billionaires, in which the movie The Social Network was loosely based on, was a better read with more pertinent content and a far more credible story to apply his sensationalized style to. (364.1628552 MEZRICH)

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