kansas cosmosphere

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More Soviet artifacts at the Kansas Cosmosphere. The museum houses the largest collection of Soviet space artifacts anywhere in the world outside Russia. Kruschev’s desktop model of Sputnik was on display, as was a creepy bust of Yuri Gagarin.

In addition to the backup vehicles for Sputniks I and II, an engine from the R7 missile family was exhibited. The R7 was the parent vehicle for the Soyuz launcher which is still in operation today.


Of the five propaganda medallion spheres launched on some of the early Luna missions, only two are known to remain on the Earth. Both are located in Kansas; one at the Cosmosphere and one at the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene.

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Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, located in Hutchinson, Kansas. Being so far away from Florida, I never really expected to visit the museum anytime relatively soon. However, when I realized I was spending ten days in Kansas City (only three and a quarter hours away), I thought I might finally be able to visit this remarkable center.

The Cosmosphere is the only Smithsonian Affiliate museum in Kansas, and is the only facility approved by the government to restore and preserve flown spacecraft. Their preservation department is currently restoring the five Apollo 11 F-1 engines that Jeff Bezos recovered in 2012. It houses the largest collection of Soviet spacecraft outside Russia, and the second-largest collection of American space artifacts outside the Smithsonian Institution.

Entering the museum, you’re nose-to-nose with the SR-71 blackbird. Serial number 17961, the aircraft flew until 1977 when it was then used for spare parts. A full-scale model of the side of the space shuttle runs along the length of the building, and the ticket counter is located under the wing. 

The museum portion of the facility is located underground for both climate control and protection. The galleries are chronological starting from World War II and the V2 production facilities. The Cold War gallery featured a Redstone IRBM warhead and backup Sputnik I and II vehicles. 

The centerpiece of the museum was the Early Spaceflight gallery. It featured the only Vostok Capsule on display in the West, which was part of a biological satellite in the 1980’s. Nearby, a Voskhod II engineering model towered over visitors. 

Voskhod II was the spacecraft that the first spacewalk was performed on. The backup Volga airlock Cosmonaut Alexi Leonov used was attached to the display spacecraft. Of everything I saw in the museum, this was perhaps the most fascinating to me. While I am quite familiar with the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules, and have seen many versions of each in various locations, I had never seen any Soviet spacecraft in person before. I think I spent more time studying the form and design of the Voskhod than in any other part of the Cosmosphere.

The American half of the gallery featured Gemini 10 and an Agena docking target. Normally, Liberty Bell 7 would be located here, however, about a month prior to my visit, the spacecraft was removed for transport to Bonn, Germany, where it will be on display until April 2015. While slightly disappointed I did not see it, I recall it being on tour in the early 2000’s at Kennedy Space Center as part of its restoration tour. Even when Liberty Bell is not at the Cosmosphere, the facility has the distinction of being only one of three museums worldwide that houses flown spacecraft from all three manned American space programs during the 1960’s. Remnants of the unmanned Mercury Atlas-1 capsule, which experienced its booster exploding during launch, are housed in the museum as well. Although it didn’t fly in space, it is still considered a flown artifact.

The other cornerstone of the museum was located in the Apollo gallery - the Odyssey. The Apollo 13 command module was one of the most neglected command modules of the program after its return to Earth. An extensive multi-year renovation in the mid 1990’s saw over 22,000 pieces of the spacecraft recovered from around the world to restore it to its former glory. Of particular interest to me was the reattachment of the docking tunnel. On other Apollo command modules, the hardware was jettisoned before its reentry through the atmosphere. Odyssey’s hardware met the same fate, but the display capsule featured a backup. Various components of the Saturn V were also on display, but I will write about that in a later post.

Nearby, a full-scale Lunar Module that was used in NBC’s lunar landing broadcast was set up to simulate the Apollo 15 mission, complete with Lunar Rover model. Across the hall is one of the few moonrocks retried from the Apollo 11 mission on display. Most lunar samples on public view are from later missions.

The entire facility was absolutely stunning. Their collection was spectacular, comprehensive, and displayed in a way to inspire even those avid of space buffs. Roughly 7% of the entire Cosmosphere's collection is on view, so items are frequently on global tour or loaned elsewhere. Even in my description of the exhibits I left out a majority of displays and images, though I’ll write more posts and images later. In my opinion, it was on par with that of the Smithsonian.


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More scenes from the Kansas Cosmosphere, including the warhead of a Redstone IRBM, slide rules used by the Soviet and American chief rocket designers, Explorer 1 backup modified for the Beacon program, and pretty stained glass at the museum’s entrance. The Bell X-1 “Glamorous Glennis” at the museum is a full-scale model that was built for the movie “The Right Stuff” and subsequently put on display. Her four engines, arraigned in a diamond, were nearby.

The slide rules really got my attention; two more or less identical pieces of wood, rooted in universally understood mathematical principles, with virtually no discernible physical difference were used by two opposing nations and people on opposite ends of the globe to achieve the same goal. The only difference in appearance I saw was a slight Easternization of the arabic numerals (a 5 with its top stroke slightly curved, a 4 with a curved side, etc) and that was it. One used by Sergei Korolev, the other by Werner von Braun. Both used to chance the course of history.