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How an Intern Stole NASA's Moon Rocks

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  • salt not required (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kartoffel (30238) on Friday May 08, 2009 @05:09PM (#27882149)

    Haven't read TFA yet, but the general story is true. I worked at JSC and knew Shae.

    The samples were in a floor safe that they rolled out of the building on a dolly. The sting was set up as if a Belgian rockhound wanted to buy some of the samples, and they agreed to meet in Florida. The 3 other interns crossed state lines for the sting. Shae stayed in TX that weekend to attend scuba classes.

  • I already have this "Indiana Jones" thing playing out in my head when they say "...in a building designed to prevent it" If I read the article, I think that image would be dashed.

    • by MoonBuggy (611105)

      Having just read it, I can assure you it wouldn't. Well, it might replace Indiana Jones with Mission Impossible, but it still reads more like a film script than anything else.

      My immediate reaction was that it must be fake, but it does seem to be reasonably well corroborated. I guess the way the 'facts' were put forward certainly helps set the ambiance, but nonetheless it's a cool story.

  • Blech (Score:5, Funny)

    by Red Flayer (890720) on Friday May 08, 2009 @05:13PM (#27882215) Journal
    I particularly like the bit where the interns in question laid the moonrocks down and a mattress and screwed on top of them, thereby making the contamination of the spent samples even worse. Made me wonder who was on the bottom.

    Seriously, though, the thing read like a synopsis of a bad TV movie. It may or may not be true, but it's telling that the perp has a book coming out that is an 'augmented' account of the heist, that the author of the linked piece is summarizing what was told him by the perp.

    IOW, don't take it with a grain of salt. Kill it with Na fire.
    • Re:Blech (Score:5, Informative)

      by Kartoffel (30238) on Friday May 08, 2009 @05:20PM (#27882311)

      Thad was a real type-A personality type. Very self confident and extroverted. I don't know much about how the other students got involved in the heist, but I'd imagine Thad was the ringleader.

      Shae was probably allowed in on the plan because she could have supplied the scuba gear for breathing in the nitrogen-purged storage room. There's no reason they would have needed wetsuits, though.

      • Re:Blech (Score:5, Informative)

        by Kartoffel (30238) on Friday May 08, 2009 @05:23PM (#27882351)

        Actually come to think of it... I don't think any ROOMS in 31N are purged. If anything, only the samples themselves are stored in gastight purged containers.

        The breathing gear stuff is probably completely salt-worthy. All I know is Shae was going for a scuba cert at the time, and that's why she wasn't in Florida with the other 3 when they got busted.

        • All that stuff about thermal sensors, nitrogen-filled rooms, making love on a bed surrounded by moon rocks... it sounds like something straight out of a Hollywood heist movie. Probably, in the years behind bars, he's embellished the story in hopes of selling it as a book or a movie script. My guess is that he's a bad combination of highly imaginative and dishonest, and he's just trying to use those qualities as best he can now that he has few other hopes of legitimate employment.
        • Just a thought; If these Moon Rocks are so valuable, why doesn't NASA go and get some more? Consider the market for these items, maybe NASA could fund groups of explorer types that want to go and get their own rocks. It's not the miner that makes the fortune, its the shop keeper that sells him the Shovel.

    • Re:Blech (Score:5, Funny)

      by flyingsquid (813711) on Friday May 08, 2009 @05:40PM (#27882549)
      particularly like the bit where the interns in question laid the moonrocks down and a mattress and screwed on top of them, thereby making the contamination of the spent samples even worse.

      In a related story, NASA announced a groundbreaking discovery today, with some startling implications. The good news is, they have discovered that the Moon supports microbial life. The bad news is, it's chlamydia.

  • by modemboy (233342) on Friday May 08, 2009 @05:14PM (#27882221)

    Not only is it somewhat painful to read, as far as I can tell it is mostly fiction, no fact checking at all. And it also seems partially plagiarized from this article:
    http://www.latimes.com/features/printedition/magazine/la-tm-moonrocks23jun06,1,1392690.story?coll=la-home-magazine [latimes.com]

    And that one is by an actual reporter with actual fact checking. Obviously some of it is left up to how the perpetrators described it, but it doesn't have stupid made up stuff like a nitrogen filled lab and thermal suits and such. I would guess the crime played out more like the LA Times article, rather than this embellished piece of pulp fiction

  • Sometime between the heist and its resolution, Tiffany and Thad arranged the moon rocks on a bedâ"and had sex amongst them.

    lol...

  • Why would you take the moon rocks with "a little bit of salt"? The salt just adds to what you have to smuggle out of the building.
  • by penguinchris (1020961) <penguinchris@@@gmail...com> on Friday May 08, 2009 @05:34PM (#27882487) Homepage

    I'm not sure why they choose people like this for cool internships. It sounds like the kind of guy that had good grades in college and all kinds of extracurricular activities, but not the kind of guy you'd actually choose as an intern!

    Obviously I don't know anything besides the ridiculous, surely augmented account of TFA, which I did read. But I simply don't understand how people like that get internships, while people like me and others I know have a hard time. We don't have 4.0s and tons of extracurricular activities, but as any science nerd will tell you (and which I hope scientists and researchers at NASA know as well - maybe the blame for selecting people like that lies with HR), that's not what you should look for when you need a science/nerd intern!

    • by Kartoffel (30238)

      You don't have to be into extreme sports or anything, but extracurricular activities *are* important. If you're a nerd, what sort of nerd activities do you do? What are you most awesome at? List that stuff on your resume.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Burkin (1534829)
      Actually having extracurricular activities is very much what you want to see a person engage in. It usually shows that they might have a modicum of social skills.
    • by Zen (8377)

      I'm not sure what country you're from. Since you say college instead of some other term I'm going to guess US. I'm not that long out of college myself. In my experience, and that of many of my friends, it's all in who you know. Very few people get internships out of the blue. It's either through family members and friends of family (church, people met at activites, etc), or something setup by your college's student employment department. At least one internship was required for us to grauate, and many

  • If these interns were so smart, then how come they got caught?
    • They got caught up on a common criminal snag of the self incriminating ebay ad.

      'Genuine stolen moon rocks: $1 000 000 per rock.
      NASA employees need not apply.'

      • by Locke2005 (849178) on Friday May 08, 2009 @06:00PM (#27882815)
        My point exactly. "I just stolen several million dollars worth of moon rocks... what do I do with them now? I know! I'll sell them on eBay! They'll never think to look for them there!" Not exactly the thought processes of a genius. More like something out of a Three Stooges movie. And yes, most of the Mission Impossible stuff is bullshit, although I do believe they got an ex-employee to give them access codes.

        I once worked at a USAF AWACS station, where the regulations said I was not allowed in the radome without an escort, since my security clearance was still pending. My first day there, one of my coworkers said "Here's the keycode to the door. Behave yourself." At other jobs, I've been able to access computer accounts I was not supposed to be in because the administrators made the passwords so complicated that their subordinates simply wrote them down and stuck them in their desk drawers. The point is, anybody who has dealt with bureaucratic bullshit long enough is perfectly willing to bend the rules to help their coworkers actually do their job. These interns got help from lots of people who assumed they were just doing their job. Needless to say, none of them is going to volunteer a "Oh yeah, I helped these kids get in" after the fact.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          I worked as a NASA-JSC contractor for about 8 years on a number of different projects with different security requirements. These were all "man-rated" flight and control systems, not some research project with 3-D glasses and a fancy chair that moved.

          I'm happy to report that not all security related work is this faulty in access control. We took our security VERY SERIOUSLY unlike the parent's team.

          To my knowledge there wasn't a single mishandled classified item. Nobody shared access codes who wasn't author

    • by rossifer (581396) on Friday May 08, 2009 @06:00PM (#27882821) Journal

      If these interns were so smart, then how come they got caught?

      Because smart and dumb are not always or never qualities. In this case, the thrill-seeking aspect of his personality meant that the smarts were dedicated to achieving difficult but spectacularly stupid accomplishments.

      • In this case, the thrill-seeking aspect of his personality meant that the smarts were dedicated to achieving difficult but spectacularly stupid accomplishments.

        Depends on what you call stupid. What have you done with your life? Louis and Clark probably trespassed across someone's property while they were exploring. So did Henry Hudson, and Amerigo Vespucci ;-). Galileo did something real stupid: he pissed off the Pope. Jesus got his ass nailed to a cross. Not very smart by your standards.

        • by rossifer (581396)

          You're projecting some serious assumptions about how I value accomplishments. Luckily for my argument, your assumptions and my argument have very little in common and were never properly introduced anyway.

          What's-his-name's accomplishments were stupid because they were simultaneously low value and high risk. The accomplishments that you assume I would scorn by Galileo, Louis and Clark, Hudson (presumably Kepler, Copernicus, Newton, et.al. were skipped for brevity) have had their claims and achievements v

          • You're projecting some serious assumptions about how I value accomplishments.

            What's-his-name's accomplishments were stupid because they were simultaneously low value by how I define value and high risk.

            Fixed that for you. You probably also meant "stupid by my [as in your] subjective and highly moral(istic) standards".

            • by rossifer (581396)

              What's-his-name's accomplishments were stupid because they were simultaneously low value by how I define value and high risk.

              Fixed that for you. You probably also meant "stupid by my [as in your] subjective and highly moral(istic) standards".

              While I agree that judgment usually comes with perspective (and is therefore subjective), I honestly thought that this was a pretty cut and dry issue. As in, so far over into the spectacularly stupid end of the dial that there would be almost none who would disagree.

        • by eihab (823648)

          Depends on what you call stupid.

          Let's see, this thief's actions caused him to:
          - Lose a career
          - Lose a girlfriend (whom he lost his wife for)
          - Go to prison which will permanently be on his records
          - Lose all respect
          - Piss off pretty much everyone .. The list goes on ..

          Gained:
          - Nothing

          Sounds pretty stupid to me.

          Louis and Clark probably trespassed across someone's property while they were exploring. So did Henry Hudson, and Amerigo Vespucci ;-). Galileo did something real stupid: he pissed off the Pope. Jesus got his ass nailed to a cross.

          This self-centered a$$hole was trying to make a quick buck. Way to go comparing this low life to explorers, scientists and religious figures.

      • "the smarts were dedicated to achieving difficult but spectacularly stupid accomplishments."

        That describes my dog. When frightened by thunder it will scratch and chew it's way through a plywood door only to find the thunder is on both sides.
  • by JoshDM (741866) on Friday May 08, 2009 @05:50PM (#27882661) Homepage Journal

    My father used to work for ILC-DDC, a chip manufacturer out on Long Island. Some of their chips went to use with NASA. As I recall it, years ago, we children were given a tour on a "factory open to families" day, and they had a NASA space suit on display in the hallway. Well, it turns out that (1) this suit had been on the moon, (2) this suit hadn't been cleaned properly, and (3) NASA eventually recalled the suit to have any errant moon dust sucked out of it, and never let them have the suit again. At least, that's the story I was told.

    • by nojayuk (567177)
      AFAIR the actual Moon suits never returned to Earth. They were left in the ascent stage of the Lunar Module after the crew transferred back into the tiny Command Module in Moon orbit. There just wasn't space (so to speak) in the Command Module for them and it wasn't like they were going to be used again.
      • by JoshDM (741866)

        Well, there was a suit, and it wasn't there a few years later and the story went that it apparently got taken back by NASA for cleaning because they left stuff on it.

        • by nojayuk (567177)

          There were a lot of suits used in testing and training, pretty much identical to the ones that actually went to the Moon. Some of these extra suits were loaned out for public exhibits and displays -- I recall hearing about a suit on display at a Star Trek convention which had one of the quick-detachable gloves stolen from it.

          The Command Module is about the size of a compact car internally, and it was the only part of the Apollo mission hardware that returned to Earth. The crew wore pressure suits on launch

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Friday May 08, 2009 @06:02PM (#27882831)
    is probably completely bogus. As was clearly shown on Mythbusters, neoprene (even thicker than the mentioned 2mm) simply does not work against thermal sensors.

    Also: "... and by paying careful attention to the absorption of the powder it is possible to tell which finger came down first and so forth."

    Maybe... if you are talking about a key that was pressed twice. Otherwise, forget it.

    Yeah. About a teaspoon of salt. One grain for each embellishment.
    • by cusco (717999) <brian.bixby@gmai l . c om> on Friday May 08, 2009 @07:00PM (#27883363)
      I have yet to see Mythbusters adequately "disprove" any damn thing. Their normal method of operation is "Well urban legend says someone did something this way, but since we only have an hour show and a low budget we're going to try to do it this other way. Didn't work? Well then it couldn't have happened and it's a myth!"

      What BS. The other night they "proved" that Robin Hood couldn't have split an arrow with another arrow by using cheap factory-made lathe-turned arrows with grain running every-which-way. Since every arrow hit broke following the irregular grain near the nock they decided that NO ONE EVER could have split an arrow. I've actually seen a hand-made straight-grained arrow that had been split from nock to head, with the other arrow still embedded, so I know for a fact that their show was BS.

      Even worse was the show where they tried to debunk the story of someone mounting a RATO (Rocket Assisted Take Off) bottle to their old Chevy Impala back in the 60s (when you could buy them surplus from the Air Force). Not having access to an actual JATO bottle, and too lazy and cheap to examine the actual plans and make a replica, the bozos cobbled together some POS rocket that probably didn't have enough thrust to get itself off the ground and put it on a car instead. Not surprisingly it failed, and now thousands of people believe that the story has been debunked.

      I certainly don't object to the IDEA of their program, in fact I think it's a great idea. I just wish that they had hired someone who could actually do it RIGHT.

      • by RajivSLK (398494)

        I completely agree. They too often come to the conclusion that "we couldn't do it therefore nobody can!". Especially when dealing with 1 in a million odds...

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        I do not disagree with you in general; I have often had the same feeling about their shows. And I did not use the words "prove" or "disprove".

        However, the section they did about heat sensors was pretty definitive. They had automatic heat sensors as well as infrared cameras. When they put on heavy wetsuits (thicker than the 2mm mentioned in TFA), and quickly entered the room (so the suits would not have time to heat up), their heat signatures were still clearly visible on the infrared camera, and they wer
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by photozz (168291)

        OK.. for starters, the arrow thing. You never said you saw the arrow being split, just that you saw a "split" arrow. I could go in my shop and make one for you in about 5 minutes. They did test with cheap arrows at first, then went and found straight grain arrows to test with again. They proved that its nearly impossible to split an arrow unless it's made of bamboo. You probably missed that part while you were getting a beer.. again. This was debunked strictly because they were unable to replicate the myth,

        • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

          by gyrogeerloose (849181)
          How is this a troll?
          • by swarsron (612788)

            yeah you moderators really rock.

            "How is this a troll?" is really bad trolling. What a provocative statement. The GP is going over the top with his last few words but even that doesn't really make him a troll.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by DerekLyons (302214)

          OK.. for starters, the arrow thing. You never said you saw the arrow being split, just that you saw a "split" arrow.

          Well, I have seen one being split.

          This was debunked strictly because they were unable to replicate the myth, and were unable to find any evidence that this had actually happened, anywhere.

          They were unable to find evidence because their researchers are lazy. Here, in just a few minutes, you've heard from two people who've seen arrows split. Visit archery forums and you'll find hundred

          • by Imrik (148191)

            They were unable to find evidence because their researchers are lazy. Here, in just a few minutes, you've heard from two people who've seen arrows split. Visit archery forums and you'll find hundreds more.

            I've read the thread so far, did a casual search, can't find any evidence of a wooden arrow being split. I don't feel like searching any more so feel free to prove me wrong.

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I have yet to see Mythbusters adequately "disprove" any damn thing.

        Who cares, Kari Byron is hot.

      • by Ma8thew (861741)
        On the rocket car show, they concluded that it was busted, not based on their experiment, but on the fact that all the local officials in the area deny that it happened. I think they do a good job on the smaller, cheaper to perform myths (the double dipping one they did recently was very well done), and provide great entertainment value on the more expensive myths.
      • Mythbusters Sucks! (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Cassander (251642)

        Thank you so much for your post. I thought I was the only geek that saw through the bullshit that is Mythbusters!

        A quick search on YouTube for "split arrow" debunks their claim of it not being possible to pull off the "Robin Hood" shot. They sure didn't try very hard.

        I have yet to see an episode of Mythbusters where I didn't have a major problem with their methodology.

        It makes me sad that so many people think these guys are applying scientific rigor. They are doing a great disservice to geeks everywhere.

  • How exactly does one put a price on moon rocks? And how exactly does this figure come into the millions?
    Is there a big market for moon rocks outside of ebay?

    • by tlhIngan (30335) <slashdotNO@SPAMworf.net> on Friday May 08, 2009 @06:28PM (#27883097)

      How exactly does one put a price on moon rocks? And how exactly does this figure come into the millions?
      Is there a big market for moon rocks outside of ebay?

      Well, you could easily put a price on the cost of getting moon rocks, I mean, the whole trip to the moon, landing and taking off and getting back on earth thing isn't cheap. Sure they brought a lot of it back, but if you priced it out, it would've been quite expensive per unit of mass. If we just consider Apollo, and how much the entire program cost, and divide by the amount of moon rocks, it won't take much rock to reach millions.

      After all, it's not like you can find real lunar regolith on Earth. And it's not like a common person with an interest in space can easily go and buy some from NASA.

    • How exactly does one put a price on moon rocks?
      With great difficulty since afaict none has ever been sold openly so you can't really put a market value on it.

      If you price it at the cost of getting more the value would be very high indeed. According to wikipedia Apollo cost "between $20 and $25.4 billion in 1969 dollars (or approximately $135 billion in 2005 dollars).". and returned "381.7 kg (841.5 lb) of rocks and other material from the Moon" If we use the 2005 dollars (which should be reasonablly close t

    • Bits and pieces of the moon come up for sale every once in a while. Sometimes legitimate, usually less so. A couple of links on the subject

      http://www.geotimes.org/sept02/NN_moon.html [geotimes.org]
      http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0617/p14s02-stss.html [csmonitor.com]

      mention a Sotheby's auction of (very small) Russian rocks; the "Goodwill Rocks" which the United States gave to each country in the world which have sometimes ended up "for sale;" and a short length of adhesive tape with moondust stuck to it. I also recall reading of a bag use

  • Here's a good one:

    The mix of the three glows under blacklight, and by paying careful attention to the absorption of the powder it is possible to tell which finger came down first and so forth. It doesn't quite make sense that Thad could use this trick to figure out the exact sequence for all the codes, based off such rudimentary information. But once Thad had eventually thrown his whole weight against the vault door, the two were inside.

    This is the kind of stuff crappy TV and movie writers have to put in

  • by pak9rabid (1011935) on Friday May 08, 2009 @06:32PM (#27883137)
    There really is a big difference between being 'book smart' and 'street smart'. I mean seriously. What did they think was going to happen when they put an ad online claiming that they have moon rocks for sale right after NASA's supply went missing?

    The proper thing to have done (outside of not pulling this stupid heist in the first place, or course) would have been to flee to another country in the eastern hemisphere and sold them there, making enough money in the process to never have to come back to the US again.
    • And then buy a spaceflight on Soyuz, only to get arrested in space when he arrived at the ISS and stepped into the station. Yeah, that's the ticket... extradited in orbit.
  • Another good one (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Un pobre guey (593801) on Friday May 08, 2009 @06:33PM (#27883145) Homepage
    ...Thad and Tiffany had only 3 minutes to crack the safe, or they wouldn't have enough air to get back outside.
    As the seconds crept onward, Thad continued to struggle with the code, so he quickly moved to plan B, which involved unbolting the heavy safe from the ground, loading it on to a small dolly and carting it back out to the car. It wasn't easy, but within the remaining time allotted to them, the two managed to slip out of the vault,

    In less than three minutes they unbolted a heavy safe from the floor and hoisted it onto a small dolly. No doubt they had a couple of big wrenches, plenty of WD-40, and maybe even some paint stripper, in case there was an annoying coat of enamel on the bolts. Bad TV yet again.

    • by TheCabal (215908)

      Not to mention, Mr. He-man was able to lift a heavy safe all by himself and load it onto said dolly. Because he's cool like that.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 08, 2009 @06:44PM (#27883223)

    yeah yeah this isn't fark, but how often do we get cute female cat burglars to ogle at?

    http://www.baylor.edu/biology/index.php?id=32089 /would hit it

    • by Shin-LaC (1333529)
      Frankly, when I read she was a former cheerleader I expected better. Her looks are just average.
      But then, the entire Gizmodo story was embellished bullshit. I regret wasting time reading it.
    • [HOW ABOUT NO bear picture here] /Slack muscle tone //And she did some guy named Thad

  • That story is hilarious.

    I hope these retards enjoy their felony convictions. If you're going to steal some rocks, make them easy ones to move on the street, like diamonds. Or better yet, steal cash.

    If NASA's hiring people like these, it's pretty clear why the US space program hasn't done anything interesting since the 1970's.

  • According TFA, the girls involved in the heist got off with freaking probation while the guys got 100 years.

    Talk about bullshit justice system.
    • by kostmo (1136101)
      The LA Times article says that the "mastermind" Thad Roberts received a sentence of eight years and four months [latimes.com] in federal prison. Gordon McWhorter was sentenced to 5 years and 10 months. The others received no jail time.
  • In 2004, thieves did the same thing in Malta, and stole a $5M Moon Rock [space.com]

    "The problem the thieves have is what to do with it," Joseph Richard Gutheinz, a retired NASA agent who helped recover the Honduras rock, wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "They can try to sell it to private collectors or if they're sufficiently dumb, at an auction house."

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