The Lunar Heist

In 2002, a collection of moon rocks was put up for sale online. Every rock collected from the moon is owned and has been catalogued by NASA, so these must have been officially sold by them, right? Actually, no.

A NASA owned moon rock sample
A NASA owned moon rock sample

Thad Roberts, Tiffany Fowler (Thad’s girlfriend), and Shae Saur were all interns at NASA. Using official IDs, the ex-interns entered the Johnson Space Center at night and stole a safe (weighing 600 pounds) containing about $21 million of lunar samples. They didn’t attempt to crack it, but instead just wheeled it out on a dolly.

Thad Roberts in a spacesuit
Thad Roberts in a spacesuit

The group decided to sell most of the rocks on the website of the Mineralogy Club of Antwerp, Belgium, using the pseudonym “Orb Robinson”. But simply using a false name was not going to help them. Immediately, mineral collector Axel Emmermann suspected something was wrong. From what he knew, these valuable samples would never be sold by NASA, so who was this “Orb” claiming to be a part of NASA?

A sample moon rock
A sample moon rock

Emmermann contacted the FBI, who revealed that the moon rocks were indeed missing, and together they devised a plan to catch the criminals. Emmermann emailed the sellers to arrange a meet up. “Orb” agreed to meet with Emmermann’s family in a Florida restaurant. And on the 33rd anniversary of the first moon walk, July 20th, Roberts and his girlfriend Tiffany Fowler arrived. An interview with Thad, by Mo Rocca of CBS, revealed how the two celebrated before the sale:

“I take some of the moon rocks, and I put ’em underneath the blanket in the bed,” recalled Roberts.

“You have sex on the moon rocks?” Rocca asked.

“Yeah. I never said anything, but I’m sure she could feel it. She never said anything directly, either, but it was more about the symbol of what we were doing – you know, basically having sex on the moon.”

The thieves soon went to meet Emmermann’s family in the lobby, but were instead met by the FBI. After being arrested, the rocks were found in the hotel room. All three interns pled guilty, and were sent to prison. Thad himself served six years in prison (also for the stolen dinosaur bones found in his house), but he still dreams of space.

I think I’m gonna still make a run for space. The private industry is still maybe going on. This might be the big thing of our lifetime and if it is, I’m gonna try to find a way to go. Maybe I can go pick up a moon rock, legally this time! One that I can keep, yep! Put on my mantle and not have to keep it a secret.


One thought on “The Lunar Heist

  1. Some might say “the moon originally was part of the Earth”…so where did the Moon Rocks come from in the first place..
    At first I thought it was just someone who collected Meteorites that were actually proven mineral-chemically to have come from the Moon, Not an unusual happening considering “explosions” on the moon…Now I see the sellers are just garden variety criminals,
    I am surprised they bothered to steal what they probably could have just sold with fancy fake paperwork to unknowing rocks with Black half moon designs,available at any good seashore rockpile… with maybe a cheesy smell rubbed on before shipping. Thanks to Professor Elliot for the heads up…or down.

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