Once we returned from the Underground Salt Museum to the surface world, Day Eight of our nine-day journey continued on the other end of Hutchinson at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. Our family has seen space-race paraphernalia in other museums such as the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (2003), Kennedy Space Center (2007), and Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry (2009), but the Cosmosphere competes in its own way, particularly with souvenirs from foreign contributors to the space race. Kansas seems like the last place on Earth you’d find a dedicated repository for cosmonaut relics, but there it was.
Astronaut greeter sculpture bids you welcome, asks you to keep your imaginations open and your complaints about NASA’s current budget to yourself.
The exhibits begin even before you pay admission. The enormous lobby holds a Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird and a facsimile of the left side of the Space Shuttle Endeavor. The Cosmosphere is no measly collection of photos and miniatures.
This Titan II rocket is quartered in an outdoor enclosure equipped with subwoofers simulating the roar and rumbling of takeoff, with none of the messy flames and killer smoke.
Bridging the gap between the American and Russian exhibits is this backup from the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. It was never flown, but is no less real.
This test version of the Viking I Lander theoretically could’ve weather the trip to Mars if only someone would’ve let it.
Less airworthy is this model of the Glamorous Glennis, the Bell X-1 craft in which he-man Chuck Yeager became the first human to pass Mach 1.
Sonic Wind II was a rocket sled used in the late 1950s for testing purposes, captained at various times by chimpanzees and dummies.
At the smaller end of the spacecraft spectrum is the Vanguard I, America’s answer to Sputnik. The first solar-powered satellite has remained in Earth’s orbit for over fifty years, while this backup version remains in captivity.
To be continued!
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