Space paraphernalia here

Thursday, April 29, 1976

That dome-topped building at 11th and Plum soon will put Midwesterners in reach of some of the most fascinating of all historical items — artifacts from American space flights. 

Max Ary, director of the Hutchinson Planetarium, was keeping an eye peeled Wednesday for what could be the first of several truck shipments to the Planetarium from the NASA Space Center at Houston. The truck arrived shortly after noon.

Included in the shipment: A window from the Apollo 12 command module; the badly charred hatch door and heat shield from the Apollo 14 Mission; a small rocket engine; a parachute that carried a manned space capsule back to earth; and "a lot of other small, but very historical things."

Possibly to come: The actual Apollo command module on which Apollo astronauts trained, gloves worn by Astronau

t Neil Armstrong, Apollo space suits, Gemini helmets, and much more.

Ary said the Apollo command module is the only one of its kind, and its exhibit here could make the Hutchinson Plantarium "one of the finest and most unique science education facilities" in the Midwest.

The artifacts have historic and monetary value. Ary said the production cost of the 25 items expected to arrive here Wednesday is estimated at $135,000.

Although the Plantarium doesn't have room to exhibit the artifacts now, Ary said the board of the Kansas Science and Arts Foundation expects to start making plans this summer for expansion.

In the meantime, the artifacts will be put into storage, except for possible preview showings of selected items.

The Kansas Science and Arts Foundation is the private foundation that owns the Plantarium; and Ary, who was formerly head of the Museum of Science and History at Noble Planetarium in Fort Worth, serves as its executive director.

Former Texan

The fact that Ary formerly lived in Texas is largely responsible for Hutchinson getting the space artifacts, which were returned to NASA from North American Rockwell, the prime contractor for the Apollo program.

"I've always had a tremendous interest in the space program," said Ary. "And one of the things that spurred me on was the fact that astronaut Alan Bean, who still is in the program, is a native of Ft. Worth, and his parents still live there."

"My wife and I met his parents, and we developed an extremely close friendship with them," he said.

Astronaut Bean was lunar module pilot for Apollo 12 and wa s the fourth man to walk on the moon. He also was commander for the Skylab 2 mission.

Ary said his acquaintance with the astronaut's family prompted him to plan a section in the Fort Worth museum in Bean's honor, and it eventually led to a friendship with Bean himself.

"I'll never forget the first time I met him, I felt like a little boy, meeting my idol," said Ary. "But it wasn't very long before I saw that he was a typical person like you and me. Only he'd had more experiences."

Ary's friendship with Bean opened the door to other space program acquaintances. "I got to know Bean very well, and I met many of the other astronauts by talking to him. One person would introduce me to two persons, and those two persons would introduce me to two others," he said.

A consultant

Eventually, Ary fell into educational consultant work for NASA, giving advice on how NASA could wipe out ignorance about what the space program actually accomplished and what it actually cost.

To date, Ary has given 600 speeches detailing the benefit of the space program and has a large private collection of space artifacts, including a 50-page segment of the first Bible ever taken to the moon.

So it was not surprising when NASA telephoned Ary two months ago and offered him a chance lo help identify 4.700 space-program items on their way to Houston from North American Rockwell.

"I flew down, and the shipments had just come in - in

17 moving vans," said Ary. "Everything was in large crates, and I spent a day and a half doing nothing but deciphering items. They ranged all the way from pocket combs and gloves to actual spacecraft."

In the process, Ary selected items he hoped the Smithsonian Institution, which takes charge of all government items (purchased with tax money) when they are no longer in use, would see fit to send to Kansas.

The Institution did see fit, making the Hutchinson Plantarium

the only museum in the country to so far be offered items from the shipment Ary examined.

Nowhere else

"They felt Hutchin.son was an extremely important area of the country, since there is nowhere else in the Midwest where any of this equipment is on exhibit," said Ary.

The Smithsonian puts items on what it calls "permanent loan." That means the items given to the Plantarium essentially become the property of the Plantarium as long as the items are properly displayed, maintained well, and are used for educational purposes.