Glorious Sights of Kansas (Volume 1)

by wjw on July 21, 2015

I could open this essay with a lame joke about Dorothy not being in Kansas anymore, but I think it’s better if you just imagine it.

Anyway, if Dorothy were in Kansas she’d be able to look at space capsules and an SR-71 Blackbird and many other aerospace goodies, that is if Dorothy were in Hutchinson, where the Cosmosphere is.

The Cosmosphere was the creation of a determined local woman named Patty Corey, who loved astronomy and aerospace and began what started as a planetarium and astronomy museum, but which now has some pretty amazing exhibits.

blackbirdI didn’t know until recently that there was an air and space museum in Kansas, let alone one in a town I’d never heard of and with such interesting artifacts; and since I was on a road trip anyway, it seemed like a good idea to pay it a visit.  The Cosmosphere isn’t very big, but they make efficient use of the space they’ve got, which means their SR-71 is hung in a nose-down attitude in order to squeeze it into the lobby.

In the basement there is Gus Grissom’s Liberty Bell 7, which when a child I watched on live TV as it plunged to the ocean bottom, fortunately without Grissom in it.  The capsule was found at 16,000 feet— deeper than the Titanic— and salvaged, after which it was desalinated, taken apart, cleaned, and put back together.  Here it is, with the name just visible on your left.

libertybellSome of the fabric bits seem a bit worn, but the rest is in amazing shape.

And here we see Odyssey, the command capsule of Apollo 13.  NASA tore the capsule apart to discover the source of the accident, and museum employees carefully cleaned all the tens of thousands of parts and reassembled them into museum-quality condition.

apollo13There’s also a lot of exhibit space devoted to the Soviet program, including a re-creation of Alexei Leonov’s space walk.

Some of the exhibits are genuine artifacts, and others are replicated, and it’s hard to tell one from the other without a score card.  I know that Glamorous Glennis is in the Smithsonian in DC, but there it hangs in Kansas, and I didn’t find any notice that it isn’t the original.  Which doesn’t mean, I guess, that the notice isn’t there, only that it wasn’t obvious enough for me to find it.

So if you’re with Dorothy in Kansas, or indeed anywhere, the Cosmosphere is definitely worth the trip.  Bring an audio book with you, because there is much two-lane blacktoppage along the way, and I’d suggest maybe The Right Stuff.


Jeb Kinnison July 21, 2015 at 1:12 am

You’re getting into my territory. I have never heard of the Cosmosphere, but my stepdad was trainmaster for UP in Salina, and my mother dated an engineer named Smoot from Salina also — the fictionalized version of his story has his father killed by a grain elevator explosion, and he returns home to use his engineering studies to develop materials handling technology that flows grain, coal dust, wood chips, etc through pipes and valves. The company still remains:

And my mother’s name is Dorothy. She’s 87 and is living in a dementia care facility in KC. (Cue theme from “Picnic”!)

JaniceG July 22, 2015 at 6:09 pm

You picked one of the only two replicas in the entire museum: Glamorous Glennis and the life-sized space shuttle replica that greets visitors. Believe it or not, everything else is authentic which is why they don’t mention that for any of the displays.

wjw July 22, 2015 at 9:45 pm

The Vostok and the Soyuz are real? Criminy!

I am very impressed.

Barb Ferrer July 22, 2015 at 10:19 pm

Holy crap, you saw Liberty 7?? I am such a massive space nerd (currently reading Lily Koppel’s The Astronaut Wives Club which gives some fascinating insight into the women behind the men) and I had no idea that there was such a trove of goodies in Kansas!

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