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Archive for Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Retired NASA official testifies in former Cosmosphere director’s trial

October 25, 2005

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— A retired NASA official testified Monday that the agency never loaned any artifacts to the former head of the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center who is accused of stealing and selling space items.

Chuck Biggs, who had worked with exhibits for NASA, took the stand Monday in the trial of Max Ary, 55, who faces 19 federal counts ranging from mail fraud to money laundering. Ary, the former president and chief executive officer of the Cosmosphere, is accused of making profits on space artifacts, some on loan to the Hutchinson space center from NASA and other museums.

Biggs said NASA loaned artifacts to the Cosmosphere but not individually to Ary. But he also said that in the early days of space exploration, NASA workers sometimes just threw away duplicate or unneeded artifacts to avoid paperwork. He said he was surprised at the number of space items that appeared to be government property that showed up on Internet auction sites.

"I am a pretty farsighted person, but I never envisioned this trash would have any value," Biggs said.

The defense contends Ary did not intend to steal anything, while acknowledging some items seized in a search of his Oklahoma home belonged to the Cosmosphere. The defense contends Ary, who often worked out of his home office, simply forgot he had those boxes when he moved.

Louis Parker, exhibits manager at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, said Monday that Ary was good at locating space artifacts all over the world, calling him a "consummate scrounger."

But Parker - who testified he still respected and trusted Ary - noted that at one point the Cosmosphere was admonished to be more careful about the way it handled property on loan from the Johnson Space Center.

Former Cosmosphere board member Linda Tegethoff testified that the board decided in April 2001 to clamp down on Ary's authority after he approved expenditures on a portrait of museum co-founder Patty Carey without the board's consent.

She testified Ary told her, "I would rather ask for forgiveness than ask for permission."

Jim Remar, the Cosmosphere's vice president of operations, testified about an artifact management policy Ary had been "very adamant" about getting in place in 2000.

Remar said the policy was intended to prevent conflicts of interest.

One provision adopted by the board prohibited museum officials from buying and selling space items for their own collections. Those who already had personal collections were supposed to fill out a form detailing that what they had.

Remar, who also worked at times as curator and director of collections, spent much of his time on the stand identifying artifacts, including an Apollo 15 boot, a control panel for an Apollo spacecraft, a lunar sample container bag, a Gemini boot, a control panel for Air Force One, a pressure gauge and a timing cable.

Ary left the Cosmosphere in May 2002 after 26 years at the museum he helped found. He took a job at the Kirkpatrick Science and Air Space Museum at Omniplex in Oklahoma City, where he was replaced last week as executive director.

The government expects to rest its case today, and the defense may be able to finish Friday.

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