Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sir George Howard Darwin, the Moon, and a Moon rock story

Sir George Howard Darwin

He was the second son and fifth child of Charles and Emma Darwin. Cool family. Best known for his idea that the Moon was part of the Earth at one regarded as incorrect.

On the formation of the Moon...

Five serious theories have been proposed for the formation of the Moon (not counting the one involving green cheese):

The Fission Theory: The Moon was once part of the Earth and somehow separated from the Earth early in the history of the Solar System. The present Pacific Ocean basin is the most popular site for the part of the Earth from which the Moon came.

The Capture Theory: The Moon was formed somewhere else, and was later captured by the gravitational field of the Earth.

The Condensation Theory: The Moon and the Earth condensed together from the original nebula that formed the Solar System.

The Colliding Planetesimals Theory: The interaction of earth-orbiting and Sun-orbiting planetesimals (very large chunks of rocks like asteroids) early in the history of the Solar System led to their breakup. The Moon condensed from this debris.

The Ejected Ring Theory: A planetesimal the size of Mars struck the earth, ejecting large volumes of matter. A disk of orbiting material was formed, and this matter eventually condensed to form the Moon in orbit around the Earth.

A detailed comparison of the properties of Lunar and Earth rock samples has placed very strong constraints on the possible validity of these hypotheses. For example, if the Moon came from material that once made up the Earth, then Lunar and Terrestrial rocks should be much more similar in composition than if the Moon was formed somewhere else and only later was captured by the Earth.

These analyses indicate that the abundances of elements in Lunar and Terrestrial material are sufficiently different to make it unlikely that the Moon formed directly from the Earth. Generally, work over the last 10 years has essentially ruled out the first two explanations and made the third one rather unlikely. At present the fifth hypothesis, that the Moon was formed from a ring of matter ejected by collision of a large object with the Earth, is the favored hypothesis; however, the question is not completely settled and many details remain to the accounted for.


Several mechanisms have been proposed for the Moon's formation 4.527 ± 0.010 billion years ago, some 30–50 million years after the origin of the Solar System. These include the fission of the Moon from the Earth's crust through centrifugal forces, which would require too great an initial spin of the Earth, the gravitational capture of a pre-formed Moon, which would require an unfeasibly extended atmosphere of the Earth to dissipate the energy of the passing Moon, and the co-formation of the Earth and the Moon together in the primordial accretion disk, which does not explain the depletion of metallic iron in the Moon. These hypotheses also cannot account for the high angular momentum of the Earth–Moon system.

The prevailing hypothesis today is that the Earth–Moon system formed as a result of a giant impact: a Mars-sized body hit the nearly formed proto-Earth, blasting material into orbit around the proto-Earth, which accreted to form the Moon. Giant impacts are thought to have been common in the early Solar System. Computer simulations modelling a giant impact are consistent with measurements of the angular momentum of the Earth–Moon system, and the small size of the lunar core; they also show that most of the Moon came from the impactor, not from the proto-Earth. However, meteorites show that other inner Solar System bodies such as Mars and Vesta have very different oxygen and tungsten isotopic compositions to the Earth, while the Earth and Moon have near-identical isotopic compositions. Post-impact mixing of the vaporized material between the forming Earth and Moon could have equalized their isotopic compositions, although this is debated.
The large amount of energy released in the giant impact event and the subsequent reaccretion of material in Earth orbit would have melted the outer shell of the Earth, forming a magma ocean. The newly formed Moon would also have had its own lunar magma ocean; estimates for its depth range from about 500 km to the entire radius of the Moon.

Scientific Papers

A web exhibition of manuscripts from the collections of the University of Glasgow Library

Segue to a new book...

"The great Moon-rock heist - extract"

Thad Roberts was a messed-up kid who had one dream: to be an astronaut. So how did he end up breaking into Nasa and making off with the most valuable thing on Earth?


Ben Mezrich

July 8th, 2011

It had to be the strangest getaway in history. The rain was so thick that Thad Roberts could barely make out the red light just a few feet ahead; the latest in a series he'd had to wait at. Even worse, between lights, he'd had to keep the Jeep at an agonising 5mph. It was unbelievably hard to drive so slowly, especially when your heart felt like it was going to blow right through your ribcage. But that was the mandatory speed limit at Nasa.

He glanced down and almost smiled at the sight of his girlfriend Rebecca crouched beneath the dashboard. A few minutes later they came to the last light – red, of course. Even worse, Thad made out the security kiosk. He kept his head facing forward. He didn't want to have to explain why he was at the compound past midnight on a Saturday. Thad was counting on the guards not being eager to step out into the rain. Even so, if one had looked carefully, he might have noticed that the Jeep was sagging in the back, the vehicle's rear axle bent so low, the chassis almost scraped the ground.

The final light shifted to green and the exit gate came into view. It swung upward, then they were through. Thad slowly accelerated. Ten mph. Twenty. Thirty. Rebecca sat up, throwing an arm over his shoulder. Then they were screaming in joy. They'd done it. My God, they had pulled it off.

Two years earlier, September 2000

Stretched out along the road into the Johnson Space Centre (JSC), blinding white in the Texan sun, was a huge rocket. Thad had read about the Saturn V, but seeing it up close was awe-inspiring. As he drove away from the gate, he could see the place was huge – more than 100 buildings on 1,600 acres – and this was just one facility; all around Clear Lake were multiple Nasa complexes serving the astronauts and scientists as they trained for future missions. And now Thad was part of all this.

On average, there were 800 applicants for every 50 spots on the JSC intern programme, most engineering majors from the country's top universities. These "co-ops" spent at least three "tours" at the centre in Houston and most went on to work there; a handful ended up in the astronaut training programme.

Thad had spent two years building himself into exactly the sort of person JSC was looking for. He'd majored in physics, geology and anthropology, got his pilot's licence, become an expert scuba diver, taken Russian and Japanese. Along the way, he'd fought the gnawing sense that, no matter what he did, he'd always be starting a few steps back from the other kids; most would probably come from more elite schools, paid for by loving parents (his own strictly Mormon father had disowned him when he'd discovered Thad's high-school love affair with Sonya, his future wife). Most wouldn't already be married at 23. Hell, most wouldn't be 23; they'd be college age, from middle-class backgrounds, not deep in debt. Thad was different. He'd always be an outsider. He'd have to work harder than everybody else to prove himself.

A swarm of smiling, energetic kids gathered at the entrance. Thad could count on one hand the people he called friends. He and Sonya were a self-contained unit. But here Thad was a blank slate. He could reinvent himself – in many ways, that thrilled him even more than the rocket outside.

As the only new co-op without an engineering background, Thad was assigned to life sciences and the astromaterials lab. Brian Helms, a co-op on his second tour, explained they'd be mostly getting lunar rock and meteorite samples ready for transportation. Then he took off his gloves and headed towards the door. "We'll have time to talk about this later. You're going to the pool party, right?"

Thad followed his new friend. He hadn't been to too many parties, because he was married, because of his upbringing. At this one, everyone was maybe a little too exuberant; at least Thad knew he was.

"So this is a monthly thing?" he asked. "Seems like it should be more of a weekly thing."

One of the co-ops laughed, an athletic-looking guy in a polo shirt that probably cost more than Thad's entire wardrobe. "We're going to be working too hard to party every week," he said. "At least those of us involved in rocket engineering."

Thad ignored this subtle knock on his lack of engineering background, pressing on instead with an idea for a weekly contest to pull off the most awesome experience they could – from sneaking on to the Vomit Comet to gaining access to the Lunar Lab or Mission Control.

He had their full attention now. Thad looked at the excited faces. "Tell you what I'm going to do," he said quietly, so they had to lean in to hear. "I'm going to get next to the Space Shuttle Simulator."

As they got out of the pool, Brian Helms moved close to him: "Don't do anything stupid, man. You don't need to impress anyone."

Thad glanced at him. "I'm not trying to impress anyone. I just think it will be fun. Lighten up. I'm not going to do anything that's against the law."

Thad kept his head low as he strolled past the security cameras; he'd been casing Building 5 for 20 minutes, but hadn't come up with anything resembling a plan. He reached the steps once more and this time went in. He found himself in a spartan foyer, facing a huge, smooth metallic door. Above, another camera pointed down at him. To the left was a punch pad and a tiny TV screen.

Thad almost turned and ran, but the camera could already see him. Before he could move, a woman's voice echoed out of the TV screen.

"Can I help you?"

Thad had to improvise. "Yes, I'm here for the Shuttle Simulator."

A buzz, and the door sprang open. He found himself in a busy hallway. There were people in white lab coats, but Thad's eyes focused on the astronauts with shuttle patches on their shoulders.

A few people were holding clipboards. He waited until one moved past, then fell into step and smiled, forcing the nervousness out of his voice. "Can you point me towards the Shuttle Simulator?"

"Sure, I'm headed that way."

They took a 90-degree turn and suddenly were in front of another metal door. The man swiped an ID and hollered at someone on the other side.

"This guy's here for a simulation run – can you take care of him?"

Thad nearly choked, but the man held the door open and he had no choice but to step inside.

He was standing at the edge of an enormous hangar. In the centre, rising high into the cavernous space, stood the Space Shuttle Simulator.

"That's what 100 million of your tax dollars will get you," a technician said as he approached. "You're here for the monthly systems check?"

"That's correct," Thad heard himself respond. "I'm supposed to observe the test run."

"The rest of your crew is already inside," the tech responded, starting towards the simulator. "If we hurry, we can make it before it begins."

Thad's eyes widened. Well, in for a penny, in for a $100m simulator. He followed the man to a hatch. Before he could blink, he was inside the cockpit of the shuttle. Every surface was covered in switches, diodes, buzzers and levers. There was a man strapped into the pilot's seat to Thad's right. His hands were flicking around, starting the launch sequence. Without looking up, he gestured towards the other chair – the commander's seat.

Thad felt panic. It took a moment to figure out how to strap himself in. Then the pilot said something and Thad heard the hatch sealing shut. "Let's finish the checklist," the pilot grunted. There was one between their seats. With his pilot's licence, he was just about able to follow what was going on, mimicking the pilot's lead, flicking a switch here and there, reading a temperature control.

"Fire it up," the pilot said.

The entire cockpit began to shake and jerk up and down, and suddenly tilted all the way on its back, nose pointing up. Thad stifled a gasp – he was looking at the sky. What he had thought were windows were actually high-definition monitors, playing feedback from a real shuttle launch.

A second later, Thad was slammed hard into his seat. The view became one of pure motion, streaks of light like laser beams flashing before his eyes. The noise of the engines was like thunder. Thad realised he was shouting with excitement. Maybe the pilot noticed, maybe he couldn't hear over the din – Thad didn't care. In his mind, he was sitting in the cockpit of a rocket ship, hurtling toward Mars.

Sitting at the edge of the swimming pool telling the other co-ops his story, Thad could see his charisma reflected in their eyes. He had secured his place at the top of the social food chain. It was a spot he'd never occupied before, and he liked it. At JSC, he'd reinvented himself as this impressive character; everybody wanted to be around him. Days were spent in the lab, nights sailing or rock climbing.
Thad Roberts Thad Roberts working inside Building 31, from which he was later to steal a 600lb safe full of moon rocks, worth, he calculated, $40bn. Photograph: Courtesy Thad Roberts

He got to know some of the JSC staff, who also seemed to enjoy hearing about his adventures. One such acquaintance was Dr Everett Gibson, one of the first scientists to study the moon rocks brought back by the Apollo programme, and the meteorite that proved there had once been life on Mars.

Life at JSC was full and exciting. Thad wondered if his enthusiasm for it was also the source of the friction he and Sonya had begun to experience in the past couple of months, back in Utah, before he'd returned for his second tour. Daily life had seemed a distraction. He couldn't wait to get back to Houston.

When Sonya came to visit, Thad wanted to show her why the place was so amazing. First he took her to his lab, then to meet Gibson, who took them to his lab and told them to wait outside while he returned some moon rocks to his safe. Curious, Thad craned his head round the door. Inside was a huge upright safe, a piece of paper with numbers written across it taped on top. Could those numbers actually be the combination?

Gibson returned and handed Sonya a small glass vial. "This is a calcareous meteorite. It's the lowest density meteor we've ever found. They usually break up when they come into the atmosphere, but this little piece survived the journey."

"This is amazing," Sonya said. "This isn't from the moon, is it?"

"No," Gibson said. "Moon rocks are a little too valuable to give away. All the moon rocks we've got came from those six Apollo missions. There aren't any more, and there aren't going to be any more. It wouldn't even be legal for me to own one. The ones I have in my safe I've acquired over 30 years of research proposals, and when I retire, they'll go right back to the lunar vault."

"But this meteorite?" Sonya asked.

"That's a gift to you guys."

Gibson waved their gratitude away. "It's our job to inspire young people like yourselves. That's really the point of this place."

The visit had been a big success but now, when they spoke on the phone, all Sonya wanted to talk about was her modelling, her life in Utah. It was getting harder for Thad to live in both places at once. A few weeks later, he got an inventory job at the Lunar Lab. The most secure building Nasa had ever built, it was atmosphere-controlled, had no connection to the outside world – no wires, pipes, ducts – and was supposedly strong enough to survive 1,000 years underwater without damage to the contents. Inside a heavy vault, Thad had checked off 110,000 samples and also discovered a smaller vault-within-a-vault where Nasa kept its returned rocks – used in experiments and therefore no longer useful as research samples. A scientist told him that, although they had the same monetary value, they were basically considered trash. Thad calculated that there were $40bn-worth locked up in there. It seemed an incredible waste.

He didn't sleep well that night. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw that miniature door. Money had never been a big deal to him before, mainly because he'd never had any. But now things were different. His relationship was in trouble. He'd reinvented himself at JSC, but deep down he was still this messed-up kid who had been kicked out of his house, had married too young, who wanted to be an astronaut but would probably never have the chance. Yet he was living as if it was just a matter of time. He was swept up in the fantasy.

Back at the University of Utah, Thad made the acquaintance of a stoner called Gordon. He was probably even younger than Thad and had some minor criminal record. Thad told him he had some moon rocks, and asked Gordon if he thought he could find a buyer.

"I could probably figure that out," Gordon said. "I'm pretty good with the internet."

Thad nodded, his excitement rising. Was there really anything wrong with Gordon sending out a few emails? Thad hadn't done anything wrong yet – and he was probably never going to. It was just a mental game. When Thad next checked his emails, he saw that Gordon had sent out a form letter to potential collectors. Although many simply explained that the sale of moon rocks was, indeed, illegal, a handful seemed interested.

Using a ridiculous fake identity created by Gordon, Thad followed up with an advertisement to a Belgian mineral club's online newsletter:


My name is Orb Robinson from Tampa, FL. I have in my possession a rare, multicarat moon rock I am trying to find a buyer for. The laws surrounding this type of exchange are known, so I will be straightforward and nonchalant about wanting to find a private buyer. If you, or someone you know, would be interested in such an exchange, please let me know. Thank you.

Orb Robinson.

I might be interested if the price is right… Have you any proof that the goods are what you say they are?

Thad hunched over his laptop, staring at the email from the Belgian rock collector. He hadn't really thought about price because he hadn't any idea how one would actually pull off the heist. He tried to figure out how much imaginary cash he'd demand for his imaginary moon rock. He needed to come up with a number that was both achievable and high enough to make it worth his while.

"Make it worth your while!" he repeated, incredulous at his own thoughts. Breaking into a Nasa building, stealing the most valuable thing on Earth, endangering his chances of ever becoming an astronaut – Thad shook his head. That was only one way of looking at the mental game. Nasa had designated those rocks as trash. Thad could use the money to make himself a better scientist. And if he became an astronaut, he might one day help Nasa in its quest to get to Mars, which meant, in a way, this theft would be a good thing for the institution. He had to continue to think about the heist in those terms, because in those terms it was more than palatable, it was heroic and noble.

Thad was now on his third tour, working as a dive assistant at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab. Containing 6m gallons of water, it was the largest indoor pool of water on Earth, the premier astronaut training environment. Deep below its surface was a full mock-up of the International Space Station, the shuttle cargo bay and even the Hubble telescope.

He was also in love. He'd met Rebecca on a cliff-jumping expedition, where she'd rushed past him, the first to jump. Staring at the swirl of granite dust where she had just gone over, Thad knew something significant had taken place. Without another word to the college kids behind him, he had thrown himself over the precipice after her.

Thad had always loved Sonya, but it had never been this all-encompassing, mind-bending thing. Maybe it was time to tell Rebecca about the mental game he'd been playing, because he was coming close to setting up a meeting with the Belgian's American sister-in-law, Lynn Briley, who was going to do the deal for him: $100,000 for a moon rock.

Even as he was telling Rebecca, he was thinking it through, not just how impossible the actual heist would be, but asking himself why he didn't just erase all the emails, lose the contact info. And yet… "I mean, $100,000. But the money's only part of it."

He kept expecting Rebecca to interrupt, to tell him he shouldn't do it, he'd be risking everything, that he would get in huge trouble, that it was a really bad idea. But she remained silent, letting him finish the thought that had been building since the moment he'd first laid eyes on her.

"Rebecca, I want to give you the moon."

Thad's eyes were watering. Silence. Then her eyes lit up: "That sounds so romantic. Let's do it."

10. 9. 8…

Friday morning, 7am. Thad was moving through Building 31. He stopped at a closed door with an electronic cypher lock, checked no one was nearby, then took out a compact and applied powder to the keypad with a small brush. Leaning close, he blew off the excess, then stepped back to survey his work. Satisfied, he calmly continued down the hallway, humming the theme from Mission: Impossible. Earlier, it had been the music from James Bond as he mixed fluorite, gypsum and talcum. Even the name he had given this portion of the preparation – Phase One – made Thad feel like he was part of an adventure he'd one day tell his grandchildren about.

7. 6. 5…

The meeting with Lynn Briley was going to take place in Florida, because that's where Gordon had set his fictitious Orb Robinson. Thad borrowed a Jeep from another co-op, saying he was helping a friend move house, then switched the numberplate for one from a similar-aged Buick he'd found in a parking lot. As he drove back to Clear Water, his heart was beating fast. He still hadn't crossed any real lines, but now he was driving the getaway vehicle: a Jeep that wasn't associated with him, that had a Nasa sticker affixed to a window and a stranger's numberplate above its bumper.

4. 3. 2. 1…

Five hours later, Thad was at a motel, laying out his tools on the floor of his room. He had counted only three other cars outside. With luck, there would be nobody nearby when they arrived after the heist. He felt a thrill. Heist. It sounded so cool. The great moon rock heist. He laughed out loud.

Thad drummed his fingers against the steering wheel, staring at the torrential rain. The tropical storm had come out of nowhere, meaning that no one had turned up for the star-gazing trip they'd arranged as an alibi the night before the heist. As they sat there, the tension inside the Jeep was explosive.

Thad had a sudden thought: "Why don't we do it now?"

"The rain is a perfect cover," Rebecca whispered.

Thad reached out and put his hand on hers. "Holy shit, we're really going to do this, aren't we?"

Rebecca was right; the guards didn't even shine a flashlight in Thad's direction as he held out his ID card. Neither uttered a word as they pulled up behind Building 31. Now they were actually here, Thad wasn't sure he wanted Rebecca to leave the car. Even if he were caught, she couldn't get into huge trouble just for waiting outside. At worst, it was like a college prank gone bad.

"Thad," she said, "I want to do this with you."

He knew he shouldn't let her. But he also knew if she did, it would bind them together for life.

"OK," he said, shocking himself. A second later, they were inside.

There he was. Up on the big screen, 20ft tall in overalls, surgical mask and latex hospital cap. He was moving like a cat down one side of the never-ending hallway. His girl was right behind him.

A flurry of choreographed motion as they shifted to the other side of the hallway, passing from one security camera to the next. Then, in front of them, the door with the cypher lock. Thad took out a torch and shone it on the keypad. Rebecca gasped as five of the keys lit up. Thad winked. His magic powder had worked. And into the lunar vault.

Except he wasn't in the lunar vault. He was in a lab, Gibson's lab, standing in front of a safe, staring at a combination lock that would not open.

He truly wasn't certain when the plan had changed – when he had shifted from the mental game of breaking into the lunar vault to the much more doable puzzle of breaking into Gibson's lab. But somewhere along the way, just enough reality had broken into Thad's fantasy to push him to this place, to this crime. In his mind, it was morally equivalent to robbing the trash safe in the lunar vault. These were used moon rocks, trotted out for lectures, but essentially still Nasa's trash. Gibson had had 30 years with them; it was Thad's turn.

He tried the combination once more, then sized up the safe: 500-600lb. Thad had expected to be able to open it, but had planned for the chance that he couldn't. He pointed past Rebecca to the dolly they had carted along. Together, they heaved on the safe and dragged it out to the Jeep.

Back at the motel, Thad carefully placed the saw against the crack at the edge of the door and drew it back and forth – the sound of screeching metal barely covered by the TV at full volume. After half an hour, there was a sudden metallic pop.

Inside were five drawers of small capsules and Teflon-sealed bags of material. As Thad unpacked the samples into a tackle box, one catalogue number jumped out at him. It was from the first Apollo mission, collected by Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon. "This one I'm keeping."

Slowly, it began to dawn on him that they had samples from every moon landing in history. Then he saw the letters ALH 84001. The Mars sample.

Though the deal was for $100,000-worth, if he actually wanted to calculate the full street value of what he had taken… the range could be anywhere from $400,000 a gram to $5m for the same amount. That put the value of 101.5g of the rocks at somewhere between $40m and half a billion.

He'd be meeting the Belgian's sister-in-law on Saturday. In five days, he and Rebecca would have enough money to go away, start a new life.

It took three days for anyone at Nasa to miss the safe. Brian Helms was the one to tell him, rushing into the showers at NBL, talking breathlessly about a trillion-dollar heist. Thad had been about to correct him when he realised his phone was ringing. Before he could get a word out, Rebecca was half-shouting at him, frantic: "Everyone knows the safe is gone."

The rumours were still swirling three days later as Thad fought his way through a typical day at JSC; until finally he was outside, waving goodbye to Brian for the weekend. He rushed to pick up Rebecca for the 14-hour drive to Orlando. There was a Sheraton close to the restaurant where he was due to meet Lynn Briley, and here they finalised their plan. Thad would go in first, and Gordon and Rebecca would come in 20 minutes later. Gordon went off to find a pizza and smoke a little weed.

"Gordon's going to be back any minute." Rebecca's voice drifted out through the open bathroom door. "This could get really awkward."

Thad grinned. "You obviously haven't spent a lot of time with stoners. Getting a pizza to them is kind of like a religious affair. If Gordon makes it back in time for the exchange, I'll be shocked."

He crossed to where the tackle box was sitting and reached for the bag from Apollo 11. With one hand he lifted the mattress and placed the bag underneath. If Rebecca noticed the fist-sized lump, she didn't say anything. For the briefest of seconds, he saw himself, hovering over her, fantasy and reality superimposed. Exactly 33 years earlier to the day, Neil Armstrong had taken the first step – but right then, right now, Thad Roberts was the first man to have sex on the moon.

It was the kind of restaurant that could be in any town in America, the perfect public setting for a deal to go down. Thad was pleased to see the restaurant was crowded. A good five minutes went by while he waited to be seated. He started to feel pretty nervous. Then he saw her, dark-haired, respectable-looking. She shook his hand, a waiter took their order, then they went right to business. Thad told her the samples were back at the Sheraton, then blurted, "I'm telling you, this has been the most exciting event in my entire life."

He knew he was talking too much, but he couldn't help himself. The woman seemed amused. Thad asked her about Kurt, her husband; she said he was waiting nearby for her to call.

"Do you want to talk to your husband before you meet the others?" he asked. She nodded.

Thad was about to answer when he saw Gordon and Rebecca. Gordon was talking very loudly, ordering Heinekens over the din. Thad turned back to the woman. "That's fine. I'll wait right here."

A few minutes later Thad saw a tall, thin man approaching the table wearing a blazer and a tie. Kurt Emmermann certainly looked European. And he was holding a briefcase in his left hand.

As he introduced himself, Thad couldn't keep his gaze off that briefcase. He had no intention of opening it in the restaurant, but he knew what was inside. More money than he'd seen in his life.

"Unbelievable," he said, realising he was saying it out loud, but not caring. "You spend so much time thinking about it, you see it in a movie in your mind, and then it's happening right now."

The woman and her husband were looking at him. He glanced at Rebecca, catching her eye. She headed over, weaving between a pair of diners being led to their table. As she passed them, Thad noticed something peculiar. The other people in the restaurant all seemed to be middle-aged. No kids, no teenagers, no families. Nobody in their 20s, other than Thad, Rebecca and Gordon.

He stood as Rebecca reached the table, introducing her to Lynn and Kurt. Then Kurt broke into the conversation for the first time, in a thick European accent. "Now, this is exciting. I'm betting you will think about this for the rest of your life. You guys will be off to some beach somewhere, and you'll remember this day, this life-changing event. Very fun." Rebecca seemed to be put at ease by the man's happy comments.

Thad told Lynn and Kurt about the Mars sample and they leaned in, listening closely. They seemed really interested. Maybe she'd want to buy that, too! Hell, he felt that anything could happen.

Suddenly there was Gordon, his eyes bloodshot, his breath stinking of alcohol. They needed to wrap this up quickly. Thad lowered his voice, speaking directly to Lynn. "Do you want to get the cheque?"

Lynn suggested Thad ride with her and Kurt, and Rebecca and Gordon follow in the other car.

"Yeah, that's fine." Thad liked the idea of separating the couple from Gordon. As the woman held the door open for Thad, he smiled at her. She smiled back, but he noticed she was glancing past him. He followed her gaze but it was just another couple of restaurant patrons. A man and woman, dressed formally for a warm Saturday evening.

Odd, but Thad told himself he was just being paranoid. In a few minutes, it would be just him, Rebecca and a briefcase full of cash. After that, maybe a nice beach.

Thad was still thinking about that beach as they pulled into the Sheraton parking lot, Rebecca and Gordon a single car's length behind. Lynn and Kurt had been pretty chatty for the short drive, talking about everything from the muggy weather to the best beer-makers in Belgium. Thad was starting to like them, and even found himself wondering if they'd all stay in touch after the deal was completed. But the minute Lynn jammed her foot on the brake, sending the car skidding to a screeching halt, his mind went blank in a burst of pure terror. He opened his mouth, but before he could find any words Lynn and Kurt were out of the car – and then there were men with guns racing at him from every direction. Bright lights exploded, illuminating the entire front of the hotel. Thad gasped, pressing back against the car seat, trying to disappear into the sticky, sweaty vinyl. But then one of the men was grabbing at the car door, and suddenly there were hands all over him. As he was dragged out, he could hear the thump of a helicopter up above, the fierce wind from the rotors pulling at his hair. And Thad could see at least 20 police cars, lights flashing, parked behind barricades and yellow tape.

"On your knees!" screamed a voice next to his ear. "Now!"

It was Kurt, but now Kurt wasn't talking about idyllic beaches, and he didn't have a Belgian accent. Now Kurt was aiming a handgun at the back of Thad's head. And there, just a few yards away, was Lynn, an FBI badge affixed to her suit jacket, talking to two men in police uniforms. And they were all looking at Thad. And Thad knew, with every fibre of his being, that he was fucked.

Rebecca was given a probational sentence and 180 days of house arrest; her father banned her from talking to Thad again. Gordon went on the run and was finally tracked down in a Utah state park where he gave his name as Job from the Bible. Thad was sentenced to seven and a half years in jail, where Sonya served him with divorce papers.

[This is an edited extract from Sex On The Moon, by Ben Mezrich, published next week....]

Sex On The Moon


Ben Mezrich

ISBN-10: 0385533926
ISBN-13: 978-0385533928

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