May 15, 2015

5/6/15 - Cosmosphere

Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchison, KS, is #3 on the 8 Wonders of Kansas list. It has one of the biggest collections of US and Russian space artifacts in the world. It's in Hutchinson, Kansas, and is affiliated with the Smithsonian. I'd never heard of it...
Upon walking into the building, the first thing I noticed was an enormous black plane. Although it's mounted up high, part of it is still in the way. George knew exactly what it was, a Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird, the infamous spy plane of the Cold War. I found out later that they put the Blackbird on the pedestals, then built the building around it. (Wow! Hope they don't ever have to move.)
This is the back of the SR-71

...and 107 feet later is the front of the Blackbird!

If that's not impressive enough, there's also a T-38 training jet suspended from the ceiling and a full-size scale model of the space shuttle Endeavor. Actually, it's just the left side, but that side is full-size. It's not like they expect it to fly.
When you buy your tickets, you have to decide which of the documentaries you want to watch in the Dome Theater, then you're scheduled for that and the Planetarium and Dr. Goddard's Lab right then. That means you have to pay attention to the time...
The Hall of Space Museum is downstairs. Going down, I was mesmerized by the stained glass memorial to the 17 astronauts whose lives were lost in the Apollo I, Space Shuttle Challenger and Space Shuttle Columbia missions. Really impressive. (Apparently everyone in Kansas can relate better than I could to the Latin phrase--it's Kansas' State Motto, and it's on the Kansas State Seal and even the Kansas license plates.)
It's Field Trip season in Kansas. The Cosmosphere is arranged in little cul-de-sacs, so you can't really get away from the kids when they rocket into the area where you are. I don't think the intention was for them to learn anything; they just blast through like an asteroid, destroying everything in their path. We tried to just stop and get out of their way. One little boy asked George if he was a robot.
In the German Gallery are V-1 and V-2 rockets, demonstrating how their technology made space travel possible. This is a V-2. I couldn't get far enough away to fit the V-1 into a single frame
The galleries are like a maze. I kept losing George and finding more kids. (Don't worry; eventually George found me and we lost all the kids!) The Cold War Gallery has exhibits about the Space Race. They have a flight-ready backup for Sputnik I. (I had no idea they had backups, but it makes sense in case the first one didn't work. It's kind of cute, isn't it?)
They have a Red Thunder, Russian RD-107 rocket engine. (I actually have no idea what that is, but I really like the picture I took of it, sort of abstract with bright colors. Mostly it was hard to take pictures in the museum because of the lighting, but this one worked.)
Around another corner and outside is the Titan Rocket Pit. This is the bottom of the rocket you see on the side of the building as you arrive.
Back inside you go on to the Mollet Early Spaceflight Gallery, where there's a Liberty Bell Mercury Capsule that was flown by Gus Grissom, then recovered from the Atlantic and restored by the Cosmosphere. I thought they were just a museum, but apparently they do a lot of restoration for the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum, and other museums around the world.
They have one of the few Soviet Vostok Space Capsules in America.
In the Lunar Exploration Gallery is a Lunar Module. (Looks pretty fragile to me. If I were roving around on the moon in zero gravity and zero air, I'd want something a LOT more substantial, I think. Something more along the lines of a lunar tank. I guess that's one more reason I never tried out for the space program.)
The Apollo Gallery is next. The Apollo XIII command module, Odyssey, is here and restored. The story on how they got it and all the pieces--and put it all back together is pretty impressive.
The last gallery downstairs is about the Astronaut Experience. Someplace I read how many space artifacts the Cosmosphere has...something like 15,000. And, like most museums, they only have a tiny percentage exhibited. If you've never seen one, they have a Moon Rock brought home from the first Moon Landing in 1969. (It's not as big as it looks, honest! And it's very ordinary looking, sort of like--you know--just a plain old rock.)

Showtime was upon us, so we headed back upstairs to the main floor.
2:00 PM - Dr. Goddard's Lab, a live show geared more to kids than adults. It was kind of fun though.
3:00 PM - Justice Planetarium. Not quite the planetarium I remembered from when I was a kid. The lights dimmed slowly, the narrator pointed out Venus and Mars, identified a few constellations, then whirled us from dusk to dawn with the night sky spinning above us. Then we watched a movie about Black Holes. (A movie???? Really? I wanted to see a planetarium show. AND I got a stiff neck watching it on the ceiling.) 

4:00 PM - Carey Digital Dome Theater. Weirdest theater I've ever been in. It's truly a dome, and they show the movie on the curved section in front of you. It makes everything strangely contorted, so sometimes what you're seeing is so wrong it doesn't make sense.  (We saw a movie about how the airplane has changed the world; I think I would have liked the space one better.)

Interesting the middle of Kansas. Who knew?

More pictures:  Cosmosphere 

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