As we saw in our previous installment, the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Museum in Hutchinson, Kansas, provides a good, safe home to many retired spacecraft and spacecraft understudies. Their collections are a comprehensive tribute to those pioneers and daredevils who yearn to see mankind reach beyond our spatial boundaries and discover what else lies in store for us in God’s universe.
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.
After we reluctantly departed the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, Day Six continued east on U.S. Route 50 from Cañon City to Pueblo. The distance was a relatively short hop of thirty-five miles, but we paused for one unplanned attraction in our path, the Colonel Leo Sidney Boston War Memorial Park. The park was established in 1997 as a tribute to veterans alive and dead. I’d pegged its location as Florence in my original notes, but online sources say the official address is in Penrose. Its namesake was a Cañon City native who fought in Vietnam, was declared MIA circa 1971, and presumed officially dead in 1997. In April 2011, his family was notified of a positive DNA match for him contained in a set of recovered remains. I wouldn’t presume to imagine the toll of such an experience.
At the time, when we pulled over to the roadside for a gander, we knew nothing about the eponymous hometown hero. All I knew was that we were standing before a military hardware collection stationed in an unusual spot.
In case you somehow missed it because of football games on TV: today Austrian skydiver and BASE-jumper Felix Baumgartner broke more than one world record by riding a balloon 128,000 feet into the outer reaches of what can still technically be called atmosphere, jumping out of his claustrophobic cockpit, free-falling at speeds exceeding Mach 1, and landing safely several minutes later on the correct planet and in one very relieved piece.
This was his view mere moments before taking one small step for sponsor Red Bull, and one giant leap for mankind:
Nothing I do for the rest of my life will ever be as cool as this. I think I’m getting ill just looking at this.
Temperatures outside the capsule were near zero Fahrenheit. Baumgartner and his beautiful balloon were upward bound for over 2½ hours before maxing out in the upper reaches of near-outer-space. He and Mission Control reviewed an exhaustive checklist of 30+ steps and checks before undertaking his epic plunge, not including what must have been an extensive, tortuous process to arrive at this historic moment in the first place. Cameras followed him as best they could every step of the way, and broadcast their viewpoints via live YouTube feed.
I imagine much of that footage should be reposted by hundreds of impressed YouTube users by the time I finish posting this. As of this minute, no such luck. Please hurry so everyone who missed it can see for themselves, fast-forward through the few quiet moments, and know what daredevil courage looks like in action.
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Updated 4:30 p.m. EDT: video posted at last. Now that’s service!
When the crew of the Apollo 11 flew their previously voyage to the moon and took those fateful first steps on the Moon on behalf of all humankind, Neil Armstrong was 39, Buzz Aldrin was three weeks short of 39, and Michael Collins was three months short of 39. When I was 39, I took my first step in Manhattan. They win.
It should go without saying how easy it is to be impressed and intimidated by the monumental nature of such an accomplishment, and at what seems like such an early age, all things considered. It’s no surprise that all other Internet news was therefore benched and ignored today when word was received that Neil Armstrong just passed away at age 82.
Over the years, our family has encountered a smattering of examples of what Armstrong and other astronauts made possible, particularly the vehicles and tools they used to break all those barriers and dare the impossible.
The Rocket Garden at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, 2007. Some were unmanned; some very much weren’t. If the moon landing hadn’t happened, I imagine much of the later flights would’ve looked very different, if America had bothered with them at all in that depressing, isolationist alt-timeline.
In 2009, the Field Museum of Natural History offered us the chance to remote-control this li’l simulated Mars Rover. If Armstrong and His Amazing Friends hadn’t reached the Moon, it’s safe to say landing anything on the surface of Mars would’ve remained a science fiction pipe dream, and Curiosity would have never existed (to say nothing of the effect on curiosity with a lowercase ‘c’).
At first I thought about truncating this entry and centering solely on this image of an Apollo spacesuit (also from KSC, 2007), which seems more solemn than any astronaut ever ought to be.
On second thought, I decided I prefer this heads-held-high tribute from the Kansas Cosmosphere, June 2012 — a fitting expression of admiration for those great deeds, emboldened by the hopes that someday they’ll inspire and be followed by deeds even greater.
May God bless you and keep you, Mr. Armstrong.