Glammed-up new-journalistic reconstruction of three young interns’ naïve plot to steal NASA’s treasured moon rocks.
Mezrich (The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal, 2009, etc.) enthusiastically re-creates this oddball 2002 moon-rock heist, led by ambitious lunar-obsessed Mormon Thad Roberts and two female accomplices, all of whom were part of a select group of NASA interns and soon-to-be astronauts-in-training. Raised in an incredibly strict Mormon family in Utah, Roberts decided that the best route of escape was to pursue his love of outer space—to the detriment of his premature marriage, he re-directed his entire life and education toward becoming an astronaut. This run-up to the central lunar-themed criminal activity is the most captivating section of the book. Roberts’ family members are terrifying in their religious-zealot freakishness, and in the character of Roberts himself, Mezrich constructs a portrait of a quintessential American individualist in control of his own destiny—a control that soon evaporated after his exposure to the lunar rocks that NASA had stored away for decades. Unfortunately, the author seems to distrust the subject matter’s potential to generate its own drama. The prose quickly becomes overheated, and his ham-fisted Norman Mailer–esque stylistic moves rarely connect with adequate force. Mezrich does his best to legitimize Roberts’ ill-conceived plot to give his new lover “the moon.” But once the young astronaut wannabe crossed this line from grandiose ambition to small-time crook, the author pushes hard to frame these deeds as heroic. Yet Roberts and his co-ed co-conspirators come off as delusional kids who can no longer discern sci-fi fantasies from real life.
Even a seasoned pro like Mezrich can’t move this ridiculous caper beyond glorified fraternity-prank status.