Hutchinson Now that the co-founder of one of the nation's premier space museums has been convicted of fraud, theft and money laundering, the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center is working to minimize the damage to its reputation caused by Max Ary's case.
Ary, 55, was convicted last week in federal court on 12 charges involving the museum he ran for 26 years. He is to be sentenced Jan. 19, and has been ordered to forfeit more than $129,000 that was derived from his crimes.
Jeff Ollenburger, who took over as president and CEO of the Cosmosphere in 2002 after Ary went to work at a similar facility in Oklahoma, said steps were being taken to beef up security and improve inventory controls as far back as 2000 - even before Ary left.
Ed Able, the head of the American Association of Museums, said letting people know about the efforts being made to ensure the integrity of the Cosmosphere's massive collection of space artifacts is a good first step toward moving on in the post-Ary era.
"The museum needs to be very upfront and public about sharing what they have done" to prevent a recurrence, Able said.
Ollenburger said that two years after the museum adopted a collections management policy that addresses security, access and preservation of the collection, a "very intensive, top-to-bottom governance review" was conducted to make sure the new policies were being followed.
"It's not tied to anything related to the last couple of weeks," Ollenburger said, referring to Ary's trial. "They are things we started before and continue to work on now."
With attendance figures at the Cosmosphere remaining healthy and continued strong relationships with NASA and the Smithsonian Institution, the Cosmosphere's reputation doesn't appear to have been hurt too badly by the Ary conviction, said Sean Smith, a spokesman for the Association of Science-Technology Centers.
"This was not really an institutional issue, but an individual issue, and I think the public is aware of that," Smith said.
Gen. Tom Stafford, a retired astronaut who testified during Ary's trial, said the Cosmosphere "tells the story of space flight even better than the Smithsonian does."
That's why museum officials are walking a delicate line between hailing Ary's role in developing the Cosmosphere and acknowledging his conviction for selling museum artifacts for his personal gain.
"I think it's important for people to realize that the Cosmosphere is still here," Ollenburger said. "We're a great museum because of a lot of people. That doesn't change."