updated 5/15/2006 3:10:47 PM ET 2006-05-15T19:10:47

The former head of a space museum was sentenced Monday to three years in federal prison for stealing and selling spacesuit components and other artifacts that belonged to the institution and NASA.

Max Ary, 56, was convicted last year on 12 federal counts, including theft of government property and mail fraud.

“This is not a time for vengeance and retribution,” U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten said. “It is a time to account for what has been done, and answer for it.”

Ary was instrumental in transforming a small-town planetarium in Hutchinson, Kan., into a nationally recognized museum, the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, which he led for 27 years. Its artifacts include the Apollo 13 command module.

Ary was convicted of stealing data recording tape from the Apollo 15 mission, an Air Force One control panel, spacesuit components, a lunar sample bag and personal items carried into space by astronauts.

He acknowledged he sold artifacts that belonged to NASA and the Cosmosphere but said they had been accidentally mingled with items in his own collection, which he said was made up of items he obtained as gifts or through trades.

“What motivated me in my career has never been money, never been fame,” he said.

Ary left the Cosmosphere in 2002 to be executive director of the Kirkpatrick Science and Air Space Museum at Omniplex in Oklahoma City. He was placed on leave from that job after being indicted and his contract expired in August.

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