Former Museum Director Indicted in Theft of Space Artifacts

Max Ary, the former director of the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center has been indicted on charges of stealing artifacts from the space flight museum in Hutchinson, Kan., and selling them, according to a press statement released today by the U.S. Justice Department.

In the 11-count indictment, Ary was charged with two counts of wire fraud; three counts of mail fraud; two counts of theft of government property; and three counts of interstate transportation of stolen property. In an 11th count, the government is seeking the forfeiture of any proceeds Ary obtained from the alleged crimes.

"We are prosecuting this case on behalf of NASA and others who have entrusted valuable historical artifacts to the Cosmosphere's keeping," Eric Melgren, U.S. Attorney said. "It is significant to all Americans that the history of this nation's heroic exploration of space be preserved and retold to each new generation, and it is important to the citizens of Kansas that the integrity of one of the state's most valuable educational resources be protected."

Ary was the president and CEO of the Cosmosphere from February 1976 to September 2002. Today, he is director of the Omniplex Science Center in Oklahoma City.

According to the indictment, the Cosmosphere has received on loan artifacts from the American space program provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Smithsonian, the United States Air Force, the National Air and Space Museum and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration through the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

As director, Ary signed loan agreements with NASA accepting responsibility for the safekeeping of the artifacts and acknowledging the conditions of the loan, which prohibited the objects from being sold. The Cosmosphere did not receive title to the artifacts and it could not unilaterally dispose of NASA property without obtaining NASA's prior authorization.

The indictment alleges that Ary:

  • Failed to advise NASA of the loss of an Omega mock-up astronaut's watch valued at $25,000 even after an insurance claim was submitted and a payment was made for the loss. NASA loaned the replica of watches worn by astronauts during space missions to the Cosmosphere, but was not told of the insurance payment and did not receive any of the proceeds. Ary signed documents reporting to NASA that the watch was still in the Cosmosphere's possession.
  • Deposited into his personal accounts more than $35,000 from an auction in 1999 in which he sold items through a California auction house that were listed on the books and records of the Cosmosphere as property of the museum or were loaned to the Cosmosphere by NASA.
  • Deposited more than $45,000 into his personal accounts from an auction in 2000 in which he sold items that were the property of the Cosmosphere.
  • A nose cone
  • A NASA silk screen
  • A photographic spot meter
  • An RX3 spacesuit component
  • Apollo 8 silk screens
  • n Apollo 11 silk screen
  • A flown Apollo 13 bus bar battery cable
  • A flown sextant crown assembly
  • An in-flight crew shirt
  • An Air Force One control panel
  • A Noun 70 Code panel, loaned to the Cosmosphere by NASA that had been flow in space. It sold for $3,400. On April 4, 2001, Ary signed a report to NASA falsely stating the panel was still in the museum's collection.
  • A flown Apollo 12 water shut-off valve
  • A rotation controller
  • A purge valve for a spacesuit
  • A film canister

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Robert Z. Pearlman Editor, Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.