The arrival last week of the Gemini XII spacecraft was just the shot in the arm the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson needed.
It has been a tough few weeks for one of the state's premiere tourist attractions. Also last week, one of the center's founders, Max Ary, was convicted in federal court on 12 charges of fraud, theft and money laundering. The counts involved Ary, who ran the museum for 26 years, selling items that had been donated to the Cosmosphere and pocketing the money.
Although Ary had been gone from the Cosmosphere for several years, his conviction nonetheless is a blow to the facility's reputation. But what better sign to reaffirm the Cosmosphere's credibility as a space museum than the arrival of Gemini XII, which will be restored in Hutchinson before being put on display at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.
The spacecraft is owned by the Smithsonian Institution, which has a close relationship with the Cosmosphere. The Smithsonian's willingness to entrust this valuable artifact of the U.S. space program to restorers at the Hutchinson museum is a strong vote of confidence in the facility's expertise and reliability.
The Cosmosphere previously had restored Gemini VI and Gemini X. The Gemini XII capsule took its only flight in 1966 with astronauts Jim Lovell and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin on board. It became the Smithsonian's property in the late 1970s and is in relatively good condition, according to Cosmosphere officials.
The latest Ary chapter has been a dark one for the Cosmosphere, particularly because the museum rose to national prominence under Ary's leadership. There was no reason to question his conduct until items listed on the Cosmosphere inventory began to show up on online auction sites after Ary had left Hutchinson to become executive director of the Kirkpatrick Science and Air Space Museum in Oklahoma City.
Despite this setback, attendance at the Cosmosphere has remained strong while the museum and its new director, Jeff Ollenburger, implement new policies to address security and preservation of the center's collection. Those steps apparently have satisfied NASA and the Smithsonian Institution, which are maintaining their ties to the Cosmosphere.
Many visitors are amazed at the extensive collection of space artifacts on display at the Hutchinson museum. It's unfortunate that the reputation of one of the people who helped build that collection has been tarnished, but the new leadership is committed to rebuilding and restoring confidence in the Cosmosphere and its management.
The arrival of the Gemini XII capsule is a strong indication that the space museum will be able to retain its national prominence and continue as one of the state's top tourist attractions.