updated 11/7/2003 11:13:30 AM ET 2003-11-07T16:13:30

More than 100 artifacts from the U.S. space program have disappeared from a Kansas museum, according to an audit conducted after items began appearing in private collections. The FBI is investigating the losses discovered at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center six to eight weeks ago, said Jeff Lanza, spokesman for the agency’s office in Kansas City, Mo.

THE MISSING ITEMS include space helmets, gloves and other astronaut equipment, along with miscellaneous small equipment and hardware. The cosmosphere has about 12,000 space-related items at the museum or stored in two warehouses.

Several of the missing items had been loaned to the museum by NASA, Cosmosphere president Jeff Ollenburger said.

Ollenburger said only a few people at the Cosmosphere have access to the keys and security codes that allow access to stored artifacts. He declined to say whether the investigation had led to any suspects, but said to the best of his knowledge, it did not involve a current employee.

The Cosmosphere has sold artifacts in the past, including close to five dozen pieces in 1999 and 2000, which brought in $241,000. Ollenburger said those artifacts included many duplicate items that had no particular historical value.

The museum also had items on loan from the Smithsonian Institution, but those have been accounted for. The museum is a repository for important artifacts from the nation’s space program, and an affiliate of the Smithsonian.

© 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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