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Saturday, September 10, 2011

On August 4, 2011 4:41 PM

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How far would you go to impress a girl? Dinner, dancing, fine wine and jewelry are all expected presents when a boy is wooing a girl. But one man made sure his romance was out of this world — literally — when he stole NASA's moon rock collection to impress his lady love.

On July 20, 2002, star NASA intern Thad Roberts stole a 600-pound safe, which contained moon rocks from every moon mission since 1969, from the organization's headquarters. He brought the rocks to a cheap Orlando hotel, scattered them out on the bed and had sex with his girlfriend on them. He eventually tried to sell the ill-gotten goods on the internet and was busted by a Belgian mineral collector.

It's all part of a bigger story, detailed in the new book, Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in History by Ben Mezrich.

Author Mezrich has written about college kids scamming Las Vegas (in Bringing Down the House) and college kids inventing the world's most successful website (in The Accidential Billionaires). But Thad Roberts' space heist takes the cake. "This is the craziest story that I've ever been involved with," Mezrich told The Current guest host Jim Brown. "It's crazy. You couldn't invent a story like this."

The heist took place in 2002, but NASA worked hard to keep the incident quiet, and did so successfully for nearly a decade. Only once Roberts' got out of prison and decided to tell his story did the world learn about the moon rock theft and the bizarre details of the caper: Thad Roberts dreamed of being the first person to land on Mars, and his rising-star status at NASA meant this could possibly happen; he stole the invaluable rocks and minerals to impress a girl he'd known for only three weeks; it took NASA 48 hours to even notice that the safe was missing; Roberts served seven and a half years in a federal prison for his crime.

But why? Why throw all that promise and potential away? Even after spending a year with Roberts, Mezrich isn't sure. 'I think he assumed that it was a college prank," Mezrich suggests. "He never thought he was stealing this national treasure, which is exactly what he did. He just didn't think of it that way."

Perhaps he should have. After all, the writer who has seen and heard it all still can't quite believe this actually happened.

"I was blown away by all of it," Mezrich admits.

He's sure readers will be too.

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