Wednesday, November 28, 2012


We had a great time in Hutchinson. One reason we stayed for a few extra days, other than to spend more time with our friends, was to see one of Hutchinson's most well-known attractions. the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center.  Here is John during a break in the action with our friends Steve and Gail Dixon and Rocky and Sheri Rhodes.

An affiliate of the Smithsonian, Cosmosphere has state-of-the-art Carey Digital Dome Theater, a planetarium with a multi-media tour of the night sky, Dr. Goddard's Lab Live Science Show, and space education camps and programs.  

However, the Hall of Space Museum is the crown jewel of the facility. It includes "the world's most significant collection of U.S. and Russian space artifacts, including the actual Apollo 13 command module Odyssey, the Liberty Bell 7 Mercury capsule, and a flown Russian Vostok spacecraft" not to mention a Gemini-Titan Rocket and much more. 

Interestingly, Cosmosphere was instrumental in the recovery of the Liberty Bell. This is the space capsule that sank upon splash-down in the ocean, and rested on the sea bottom for 38 years. After recovery, it was meticulously restored by the Cosmosphere staff.

The story of the Apollo 13 command module is more complicated...and more interesting. Though most of America considered the safe return of the crew after such a terrible accident an heroic event, apparently NASA considered the mission a failure and an embarrassment. After its return, the command module was dismantled and the various systems sent away for analysis to determine the cause of the accident and how it could have been prevented or the damage minimized. Then, after being in storage for a number of years, the Odyssey was sent out of the country to a small museum in France for display.

In the early 1990s, the folks at Cosmosphere began to work with The Smithsonian to recover and reconstruct the command module. This was a difficult task because all the systems installed in the module had been removed and had to be tracked down, recovered, restored and reinstalled. In all, some 80,000 pieces from the spacecraft were eventually recovered.  In 1995, the command module was finally returned to the US and restoration began.  In 1997, the project was completed and the Apollo 13 command module Odyssey is now on display at Cosmosphere, along with the makeshift carbon dioxide scrubber that saved the lives of the crew.

Here is a photo of the Apollo Lunar Module on display at Cosmosphere.  Built by the Grumman Corporation as an engineering test structure, it is one of only a few lunar modules still in existence.  Most are still on the surface of the moon where they were left when astronauts returned to Earth.

There are also models of Sputnik I and II, launched by the Soviet Union in 1957.  This is a model of the Sputnik II craft that carried the first living being, a little dog named Laika, into Earth orbit.

If you are in Hutchinson, do not miss this attraction. We spent the better part of 2 days there and could have stayed longer. The displays are well-laid-out and presented in an interesting manner. Everything from the earliest rockets to the "Blackbird" spy plane to information about the space shuttle and civilian space craft is covered, and you won't be disappointed.

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