Thad Roberts: Where is the Moon Rock Thief Now?

‘Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry? Houston, We Have a Marital Problem’ follows how Thad Roberts stole 101 grams of lunar rocks from a NASA facility while interning with the American space organization in Texas in 2002. While the federal authorities had a whiff of the sale and solved the crime within a week, the audacious nature of the heist and the alleged reason behind it make it a tale for the silver screen. So, why did Thad do it, and where is he now? Let’s find out.

Who is Thad Roberts?

According to reports, Thad Roberts had a difficult childhood — he was reportedly thrown out from his Mormon mission for confessing to premarital sex when he was 19. Thad claimed he was also subsequently disowned by his family in Syracuse, Utah. By November 2000, he was a triple major in physics, geology, and geophysics from the University of Utah and the founder of the Utah Astronomical Society. Thad told anybody who would listen — he was determined to be the first person on Mars.

He took a baby step toward his dream when he was first accepted into NASA’s elite “Co-op” program for aspiring astronauts in 2001 and was assigned to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. According to a CBS News interview, Thad claimed he never felt “socially comfortable” as he was “very, very shy growing up, and remarkably quiet.” However, he was over the moon when he got accepted into the prestigious NASA program and said, “I feel like what I thought the popular kids might feel like in high school.”

He also claimed in the interview nervousness kicked in after the initial high of being accepted subsided, recalling, “So it was kind of stressful to figure out, ‘How am I gonna do this? How am I gonna outperform? How am I gonna learn as much as possible and take advantage of all this without the kind of money that everyone else has?'” It did not help that he married his high school sweetheart, Kaydee Wilson, at a young age, and struggled financially to make ends meet. According to the episode, they married in August 1998.

Jamie Zvirzdin described her former mentor, Thad, as a confident and intelligent guy with a devilish side who took her on daredevil plane rides and dropped two-liter liquid nitrogen from the South Physics Building’s roof. True to her evaluation, Thad made a name for himself at NASA as a risk taker and rule-breaker as he pulled off audacious stunts like sneaking into the Space Shuttle Simulator. He explained during an interview how he pulled it off and got away without facing any consequences.

Thad recalled, “So I come in, and they’re like, ‘Hey, we’re on a shift change, you know, so we’ll have the next crew take care of you, is that all right?’ And then when they come in, they’re like, ‘Okay, you’re here for the run?’ And I’m like, ‘Sure. I’ll go on the run!'” When the interviewer asked whether he felt like he was “crossing a line there,” Thad replied, “No, I felt like I was lucky timing-wise.” Thus started his residing “in that gray area between right and wrong,” until he crossed it by miles on July 13, 2002, by stealing a national treasure.

Thad Roberts Now Works as a Theoretical Physicist

Author Ben Mezrich said, “Thad Roberts is the most complicated person I’ve ever written about. He’s an incredibly complex character. And I’ve written about Mark Zuckerberg!” According to reports, Thad’s journey to the dark side began when he saw some moon rocks in the 600-pound laboratory safe of his mentor, NASA scientist Everett Gibson. Out of the Apollo astronauts’ total haul of 842 pounds of moon rocks, a small percent, including the samples that were in Dr. Gibson’s safe, have been exposed to the Earth’s atmosphere.

Ben added, “So when he (Thad) gets to NASA, and he sees all these Moon rocks in a safe that aren’t being used, they’re the most valuable thing on Earth, and NASA’s just putting them in a corner. He feels that the right thing to do is to take these out of NASA, to take these Moon rocks, and use them.” During one of his rooftop astronomy nights, Thad met a student named Gordon McWhorter, who agreed to research how to sell moon rocks. Thad used an alias “Orb Robinson” to email a Belgian amateur mineralogist about buying them in May 2002.

The mineralogist, Axel Emmermann, suspected a hoax and alerted the FBI, and the federal authorities took over the online correspondence. During his last internship round, Thad met Tiffany Fowler, another NASA intern, in June 2002 and claimed to have immediately fallen in love with her. According to Thad, he and Kaydee had grown apart and decided to have an amicable, open marriage — something that Kaydee vehemently disagreed with. She said, “Thad has put so much incorrect info out, so he seems like a hero to others instead of the lying, manipulative person he is.”

Thad and Tiffany, then 22, were joined by Shae Saur, then 19, who waited outside NASA’s Building 31N while her two accomplices stole the entire safe. They returned to their motel room and broke open the safe with a power saw. The three young interns cataloged the lunar samples in vials before discarding the safe and Dr. Gibson’s three-decades-long research notes. On July 20, Thad and Tiffany drove to a hotel in Orlando, Florida, to complete the sale, and were arrested by the FBI, along with Gordon.

Image Credit: LinkedIn

Thad had even allegedly told the undercover agents how he and Tiffany had intercourse by keeping a few vials of moon rocks under the hotel pillow — wanting to have “sex on the moon.” An FBI search of Thad’s home revealed fossils he had stolen from the basement of the University of Utah’s Natural History Museum. He was sentenced to more than eight years in prison on October 29 after pleading guilty. He was released early after winning a ten-month reduction on appeal. Thad currently works as a theoretical physicist for a private think tank and is also a motivational speaker for the American Program Bureau.

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