The Strange Case of Space History Theft Ends with an Austin Auction

Categories: NASA

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Gaston and Sheehan Auctioneers promotional material
Space history is for sale, but it's not cheap.

If you've always dreamed of owning a swathe of the Apollo 13 couch, a piece of an Apollo spacecraft heatshield, an Apollo patch autographed by the crew or some other little bit of material that has been to outer space and back again through the space program, you might still have a chance.

The Austin-based auction company, Gaston & Sheehan Auctioneers, is selling a bunch of space stuff, the bulk of it confiscated by the U.S. Marshal's Service about 10 years ago. It all started when some space artifacts went missing from the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center (yeah, we didn't know there was anything like that in Kansas either.)

Things had been disappearing for a while when the U.S. Marshal's Service got involved. It turned out -- go figure -- the museum curator Max Ary had stolen and sold off hundreds of space artifacts. He was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison in 2006 and his private collection was confiscated to pay for all the stuff -- which rightfully belonged to NASA and the Cosmosphere. The strangest part of all this is that Ary was known as the guy who turned the tiny Kansas setup into one of the most respected space museums in the country, according to NASA Watch.

This left the U.S. Marshal's Office with a bunch of space stuff which has been held in storage since being confiscated. Some official or other decided it was time to sell the stuff off so that's what is happening.

Ary ultimately lost his appeal and served out his time in prison starting in 2008. He was released early for good behavior in 2010. Since then, he's become the director of another space museum, Thomas P. Stafford Air & Space Museum in Oklahoma, and has insisted on his innocence all the while. In short, his life seems to have bounced back, but he still got the task of going through his old space treasures and documenting what's what for the auction. He even offered to write letters of authentication, according CollectSpace.com

While it must be depressing for Ary, if you've ever dreamed of owning some little piece of space history now is your chance. Be warned though, this stuff isn't cheap. A broken space camera -- seriously, it's listed as "Mauer camera broken in several pieces" -- will run you at least $1,275. These artifacts are pricey, yes, but Ary guarantees this is the real stuff, given to him by astronauts and the like. He's even offered to write letters of authentication so there can be no doubt.


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