From the bestselling author of The Accidental Billionaires and Bringing Down the House, this is the incredible true story of how a college student and two female accomplices stole some of the rarest objects on the planet—moon rocks—from an "impregnable" high-tech vault.
But breaking into a highly secure laboratory wasn't easy. Thad Roberts, an intern in a prestigious NASA training program, would have to concoct a meticulous plan to get past security checkpoints, an electronically locked door with cipher security codes, and camera-lined hallways even before he could get his hands on the 600-pound safe. And then how was he supposed to get it out? And what does one do with an item so valuable that it's illegal even to own? With his signature high-velocity style, Mezrich reconstructs the outlandish heist and tells a story of genius, love, and duplicity that reads like a Hollywood thrill ride.
It had to be the strangest getaway in history.
Thad Roberts tried to control his nerves as he stared up through the windshield of the idling four-wheel-drive Jeep. The rain was coming down in violent gray sheets, so fierce and thick he could barely make out the bright red traffic light hanging just a few feet in front of him. He had been sitting there for what seemed like forever; a long stretch of pavement serpentined into the gray mist behind him, winding back past a half-dozen other traffic lights—all of which he’d had to wait through, in exactly the same fashion. Even worse, between the lights he’d had to keep the Jeep at an agonizing five miles per hour—a veritable crawl along the desolate, rain-swept streets of the tightly controlled compound. It was unbelievably hard to drive at five miles per hour, especially when your neurons were going off like fireworks and your heart felt like it was going to blow right through your rib cage. But five miles per hour was the mandatory speed limit of the compound—posted every few yards on signs by the road—and at five miles per hour, once you hit one red light, you were going to hit them all.
Thad’s fingers whitened against the Jeep’s steering wheel as he watched the red glow, willing it to change to green. He wanted nothing more than to gun the engine, put his foot right through the floor, break the speed limit, and get the hell out of there. But he knew that there were cameras everywhere—that the entire getaway was being filmed and broadcast on more than a dozen security consoles. For this to work, he had to stay calm, obey the rules. He had to appear as if he belonged.
He took a deep breath, let the red glow from the traffic light splash across his cheeks. Only a few more seconds. He used the opportunity to toss a quick glance toward the passenger seat—which didn’t help at all. Sandra looked even more terrified than he felt. Her face was ivory white, her eyes like saucers. He wanted to say something to calm her down, but he couldn’t think of the words. She was pretty, with blondish-brown hair; even younger than Thad, barely nineteen years old. Maybe not the ideal accomplice for something like this—but she was an electronics specialist, and she had practically begged to be a part of the scheme.
Thad shifted his eyes toward the center “seat” between them, and almost smiled at the sight of his girlfriend crouched down beneath the dashboard, her lithe body curled up into a tight little ball. Rebecca had jet-black hair, cut short against her alabaster skin, and she was even prettier than Sandra. She had just turned twenty. But as young as she was, she was the only one of the three of them who didn’t look scared. Her blue eyes were positively glowing with excitement. To her, this was beyond thrilling—really, James Bond kind of shit. Looking at her, Thad was infused with adrenalin. They were so damn close.
And suddenly he was bathed in green as the light finally changed. Thad touched the gas pedal, and the Jeep jerked forward—then he quickly lifted his foot—making sure the speedometer read exactly 5 mph. The slow-motion getaway continued, the only sounds the rumble of the Jeep’s engines and the crackle of the rain against the windshield.
A bare few minutes later, they came to the last traffic light—and again, of course, it was red. Even worse, Thad quickly made out the security kiosk just a few yards to the left of the light. He could see at least two uniformed guards inside. Thad held his breath as he slowed the Jeep to a stop at the light; he kept his head facing forward, willing Sandra to do the same. He didn’t want to have to explain why he was at the compound, past midnight on a Saturday. Thad was counting on the fact that neither of the guards would be eager to step out into the rain to interrogate him. Even so, if one of the guards had looked carefully, he might have noticed that the Jeep was sagging in the back. In fact, the vehicle’s rear axle was bent so low that the chassis almost scraped the ground as they idled at the traffic stop.
The sag of the Jeep was one of the few things that Thad and his two accomplices hadn’t planned. A miscalculation, actually—the safe that Thad and the two girls had hoisted into the back of the Jeep—less than ten minutes ago—weighed much more than Thad had expected—probably close to six hundred pounds. It had taken all three of them and a levered dolly to perform the feat, and even so Thad had strained every muscle in his back and legs getting the damn thing situated properly. Thad was just thankful that the Jeep’s axle hadn’t collapsed under the weight. As it was, he was pretty sure that even a cursory inspection of the vehicle would be enough to blow the whole operation.
Thankfully, neither of the guards made any move to step out of the kiosk. When the light shifted to green, Thad had to use all of his self-control to barely touch the gas—piloting them forward at the prescribed 5 mph. Almost instantly, the exit gate came into view. They approached, inch by inch—and at the last minute, the gate swung upward, out of the way. And then they were through. Thad slowly accelerated. Ten mph.
He glanced in the rearview mirror. The compound had receded into the rain.
He looked at Sandra—and she stared back at him. Rebecca uncurled herself and sat up in the middle of the Jeep, throwing an arm over his shoulder. Then they were all screaming in joy. They had done it. My God, they had truly pulled it off.
When the celebration had died down, Thad glanced into the rearview mirror again—but this time, he wasn’t looking at the road behind them. He could see the dark bulk of the safe, covered in a plastic tarp they had bought in a hardware store just twenty-four hours ago. The sight of the thing caused his chest to tighten—a mix of anticipation and what could only be described as pure awe.
In that safe was the most precious substance on earth. A national treasure—of unimaginable value, something that had never been stolen before—something that could never, in fact, be replaced. Thad wasn’t sure what the contents of the safe were worth—but he did know that if he’d wanted to, he could have just as easily walked off with enough of the stuff to make him the richest man in the world. As it was, he and his accomplices had pulled off one of the biggest heists in U.S. history.
But to Thad, it hadn’t really been about the monetary value of the contents of the safe. All he’d really wanted to do was keep a promise to the girl sitting next to him, her arm over his shoulder. A simple promise that a million other men had made to millions of women over the years.
He had promised to give her the moon.
The difference was, Thad Roberts was the first man who was actually going to keep that promise.
Excerpted from Sex on the Moon by Ben Mezrich. Copyright © 2011 by Ben Mezrich. Excerpted by permission of Anchor, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Ben Mezrich is the New York Times bestselling author of The Accidental Billionaires and Bringing Down the House in addition to nine other books. The film 21, starring Kevin Spacey, was based on Bringing Down the House. The Social Network, which won an Oscar for best adaptation, was based on The Accidental Billionaires.
“An out-of-this-world heist.”
“Mezrich has uncovered another high-stakes, fascinating true story. . . . Part love story, part madcap caper, part astro-geekery, the book is one of the summer’s most fun reads.”
“Movie-worthy treatment to the guy who stole moon rocks from NASA.”
—The New York Daily News
“Mezrich is a genius at using characters and dialogue. . . to turn nonfiction into something as compelling as any thriller.”
—The Chronicle Herald
“[An] in-depth look at Thad Roberts, who along with three other NASA interns, stole pieces of lunar rock to impress his girlfriend. Mezrich has done extensive research to recreate the story of how an aspiring astronaut ended up getting caught for stealing over 100 pieces of the moon.”
—The Atlantic Monthly
“A fast and furious read, powered along by Mezrich’s desire never to take his eyes off the story.”
“Ben Mezrich’s latest straight-to-the-big-screen book. . . . a rollicking summertime page-turner crackling with sex, astronauts, stolen dinosaur bones and international cyber-intrigue.”
—The Miami Herald
“A breathless, credulous style. . . . memorable supporting characters. . . . adventure, sex, romance, a hero who is equal parts Clifford Irving from The Hoax, Frank Abagnale from Catch Me If You Can, and George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life.”
—The Boston Globe
“[A] thrilling account of space rock heist. . . fun, breezy action.”
“Eloquent prose and a direct view into the characters’ mind. . . the access to Roberts and re-creation of his motivation and personality are Sex On The Moon’s best qualities.”
“[A] fascinating story. . . . has the readability of popular fiction, a ripping story, and great characters. . . . Another winner from an extremely talented writer.”
—Booklist, starred review
“Out of this world heist. . . . one of the summer’s most buzzed-about books.”
“Page-turner. . . . engaging read.”
—San Antonio Express-News
“Ben Mezrich, the gonzo-inspired biographer of Ivy League geeks. . . . [brings us a] stranger-than-fiction, true-life thriller of a man who went where no man has gone before. . . . [the] story ticked all the boxes: a charismatic dreamer with a troubled past, a Romeo-and-Juliet love story, a geek-alicious high-tech setting, an ingenious Oceans 11-style heist—and perhaps the most boneheaded mistake any man ever made to impress a girl. Even better, it was a journalist’s Holy Grail: a truly uncovered story.”
—Baltimore Jewish Times
“Ben Mezrich goes to incredible lengths to bring readers a story that is both accurate and spellbinding, honest and riveting.”
“A pulse-pounding tale.”
“This is the incredible story of a crime truly out of this world, told with verve by Mezrich.”
—News of the World
—Atlanta Jewish Times
“Enthusiastically re-creates this oddball 2002 moon-rock heist.”