Otherworldly Experiences in Hutchinson, Kansas: Part 2

The prairie city of Hutchinson is no stranger to showcasing its obsession with unique explorations...check out Part I of this adventure, which takes place 650 beneath the earth's surface.

Somewhere out on the frontier of Kansas is a place where space--the final frontier--is magically wrangled into visitable format.  It's a place where Moscow and Mars and moon rocks are more fodder for daily conversation than, say, the latest wheat prices.  In this little world,  it's possible to see and interact with more historical space artifacts than most museums of its kind.

Why does all of this awesomeness exist out on the plains of Kansas?  Because when the Smithsonian was cleaning out its space closets in the 1970s, the City of Hutchinson and what was then known as the Hutchinson Planetarium were waiting with arms wide open to take in all of the goods.  We Kansans know a good deal when we see it.  Now, The Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center is not only Smithsonian-affiliated, but it is considered to be the second best museum of space artifacts, research, and restoration outside of D.C.

When you walk into the lobby, the first two things that seem to descend upon you are an SR-71 Blackbird (which can fly, most literally, faster than a bullet) and a full-size scale replica of the space shuttle Endeavor.  (Interesting side note, our graduating class of 1999 made Buhler High School history when we were the first to elect to have our senior prom at the Cosmosphere, right under that huge SR-71.  Epic.)

The museum itself is incredibly comprehensive and starts at the very beginning of the space story.  Interestingly enough, that story begins with Hitler over in Germany and the visions of missiles dancing in his head (resulting in the grouping of some of Europe's most talented engineers whose work we would later embody to get us off of this planet).  

With the Cold War in full swing during the 50s and 60s, getting to the Moon became an obsession for both the Americans and the Soviets, taking Keeping Up With (Beating) the Johnsons to a whole new level.  

The first part of the museum detailing the Space Race is pretty history-heavy, but it contains some interesting relics, including two large panels of the Berlin wall (Yes, THE actual Berlin wall.  In Kansas.) and the flight-ready back-ups of both Sputnik I and II.  In fact, the Cosmosphere has the largest collection of Russian/Soviet space artifacts outside of Moscow, and second to none in the USA.  It's hard not to wonder, "What would Khrushchev think of all of this?"

Why do the Russians make their space machinery so naughty looking?

Once you're beyond the rather moody intro and realize that both Nazis and the Cold War are really the reasons why we even got to the Moon in the first place, the exhibits become a little more fun and interactive.  I think this transition was observed somewhere around the ejection seat tester (here, modeled by my dear ol' mom).

As if the Cosmosphere couldn't be any cooler, they also build exhibits and replica models for the Hollywood film industry, including all of the work on the 1995 film Apollo 13. Seriously, what would Hollywood do without Hutchinson to build its space replicas and store its original movie reels?  

With all of the expertise floating around this place, it should come as no surprise that it has a full-on restoration component as well.  It's restored actual flown spacecraft that are part of the massive collection at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.  One of its more popular works is the flown Apollo 13 command module Odessy, which was fully restored in-house.

The Apollo space suits compete for coolness with a moon rock from the Apollo 11 mission.

Their sunscreen kicks your sunscreen's ass.

Perhaps for some, this post isn't heavy enough on the rockets, missiles, space capsules, and general space machinery as it could be, but I'm a little more into the quirkier side to space exploration, like the details involved with how to use the commode in zero gravity (as one of the display panels puts it, "There ain't no graceful way.")

Vinyl strap-on undies and suction tubes are the name of the game here.

And then there's space photography.  The cameras--ohhhhhh the cameras!  All of them on display (mostly Leicas and Hasselblads, for you nerdos) were used on actual space missions, and the photos they took are illuminated around the gallery.  This display is my Apollo.

Medium format backs each signed by the astronaut who shot with it.  Because of weight restrictions coming back to Earth, the heavier camera was left behind while just the backs loaded with film were brought back.  Sad to think of all of those Hasselblads sitting on the moon.  Painful, really.  It's in the name of space and making in back safely into our stratosphere, so I'll make a few exceptions here, guys.

How do you drink a Coke in space?  Do your hair?  Pass the time?  Sleep without floating into something?  How have our achievements in space influenced pop culture here on Earth?  Is there a Boy Scout badge involved somewhere in all of this?  All of these questions and more, easily answered by the Cosmosphere's awesome curios.

After exploring the Hall of Space Museum, you should definitely catch a flick at the IMAX or head over to the gift shop--you can be the envy of every field-trippin' school kid by picking up a few packets of astronaut ice cream.

Paired with Strataca, the Cosmosphere really gives Hutch an advantage on the 'ol destinations scale.  As the billboards taunt, if you're ever in the middle of Kansas, swing on through Hutchinson and go "share their space" for a day or two!