WICHITA, Kan. – The former head of a Kansas space museum was found guilty Tuesday of stealing and selling spacesuit components and other artifacts that belonged to the institution and NASA.
Max Ary (search), former president and chief executive of the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, was convicted on 12 federal counts, including theft and fraud. The most serious charges carry up to 10 years in prison. He will be sentenced Jan. 19.
Ary, 55, was instrumental in transforming a small-town planetarium into the nationally recognized museum, which he led for 27 years.
He was convicted of stealing data recording tape from the Apollo 15 mission (search), an Air Force One control panel, spacesuit components, a lunar sample bag, and personal items carried into space by astronauts. Those included a Kansas flag given to the museum by astronaut Charles Duke Jr. (search)
Ary acknowledged he sold artifacts that belonged to NASA and the Cosmosphere but said they had been accidentally mingled with items in his own collection, which he said was made up of items he obtained as gifts or through trades.
"At no time while employed at the Cosmosphere did I ever intend to cheat or do anything improper for the Cosmosphere," he told the jury.
Former astronaut Eugene Cernan (search), the last man to walk on the moon, testified on Ary's behalf, saying he gave space artifacts to the Cosmosphere because of his trust in Ary.
"Max was the reason I even considered sending some artifacts to the Cosmosphere," Cernan said.
Ary's attorney, Lee Thompson, would not comment about the verdict.
Ary left the Cosmosphere in 2002 to be executive director of the Kirkpatrick Science and Air Space Museum at Omniplex in Oklahoma City. He was placed on leave from that job after being indicted in April. His contract expired in August.