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Main entrance of the Cosmosphere

The Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center is a museum and educational facility in Hutchinson, Kansas that is best known for the display and restoration of space artifacts and educational camps.


General information

Founded by Patricia Carey as the Hutchinson Planetarium, the Cosmosphere began in 1962 as a planetarium on the Kansas State Fair grounds. In 1966, the Hutchinson Planetarium moved to the campus of Hutchinson Community College in the newly constructed Science and Arts Building. Once moved to a larger venue, the planetarium began to develop even further. This new facility housed a 75 seat planetarium soon added some small exhibits to the lobby, including a collection of rocks and minerals and "George" the notable planetarium rattlesnake.

In 1976, encouraged by the planetarium's popularity, Carey and the board of directors began planning to significantly expand the facility. Launched as the Kansas Cosmosphere and Discovery Center in 1980, the new facility featured permanent galleries in the Hall of Space Museum, the fourth Omnimax Dome theatre in the world, and the planetarium that started it all.

Over the next few years numerous new exhibits were added to the Cosmosphere, encompassing everything from Godddard through the Shuttle program. In 1988 the Cosmosphere made national headlines when it invited two cosmonauts from the Soviet Union to visit the facility. The cosmonauts presented the Cosmosphere with the space suit of Svetlana Savitskaya, the second woman in space and the first woman to carry out a walk in space.

In 1997, the facility expanded again to its current size of 105,000 feet, tripling the size of the Hall of Space Museum where it exhibits the 2nd largest collection of US space artifacts in the world (second only to the National Air and Space Museum), and the largest collection of Soviet space artifacts outside of Moscow. The new facility, dominated by a large atrium featuring a SR-71 Blackbird, a T-38 jet trainer, and a full-size model of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, was the view visitors were greeted to upon entry. The Hall of Space was expanded to encompass the history of both the Soviet and Russian space programs, literally separated by a piece of the Berlin Wall. The Cosmosphere was also the first institution to become an affiliate of the Smithsonian, and is still the only Smithsonian affiliated museum in the state of Kansas. In 2008 it was voted one of the eight wonders of Kansas by a national poll.

The Cosmosphere made further national headlines in 1999 when it partnered with Oceaneering mastermind Curt Newport, a deep-sea salvage expert to tackle recovering the Liberty Bell 7 Mercury program space capsule from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. The Liberty Bell 7, the second American manned spacecraft launched into space, was the only NASA spacecraft never recovered in the agency's history. With financial backing from the Discovery Channel on 20 July 1999, the capsule was recovered from a depth of over 17,000 feet, one mile deeper than the Titanic, and the deepest salvage operation in maritime history. The Discovery Channel went on to make a two hour documentary based on the Liberty Bell 7 recovery.


One of the things that the Cosmosphere is well known for are its camps, including the Future Astronaut Training Program (FATP). FATP is a 5-day summer camp for middle school and high school students, an Elderhostel program, and several 1-day or single overnight camp options for elementary school students based on grade level. Adults can also attend the 3-day Adult Astronaut Experience program.

The highlight of the 5-day and 3-day Adult Astronaut Experience camps is a "shuttle mission" in the simulator, affectionately named the Falcon. According to camp staff, NASA astronauts have visited and tested a "mission" in the Falcon, and found it harder to fly than the actual shuttle. This is because most of the processes on the shuttle are automated, and on the Falcon, must be done manually. Currently, no campers in the history of FATP have ever crashed the Falcon during their final mission; a boon to the reputation of the camp, and a testimony to the teamwork and skill of the campers.

At the beginning of each camp, campers are organized into teams, usually with five people on each (One commander, one pilot, and three mission specialists). A few groups in each camp will likely have four people. In that case, there will be only two mission specialists to a team. Each team chooses a name from a list of flown spacecraft except for Challenger and Columbia, out of respect for the crews of those shuttles. The name Falcon is also off limits, to avoid confusion with the shuttle simulator. Each team will work together on all of the activities and missions that take place, and train for their Falcon mission. There is often a running competition between teams. Scores such as who built the rocket that went highest, who did best in the centrifuge, who built the robot with the most complex programming, etc. This encourages creative thinking and unique approaches to problems, as campers strive to think of ways to outdo their peers.

Some of the camp activities include the Multi Axis trainer, a seat in two concentric rings that spins and twirls its occupant in every conceivable direction. There is also a centrifuge, where campers experience four times Earth gravity while completing simple tasks. A trash can stands nearby for the weak of stomach, and a pre-set signal allows riders to abort the mission if feeling queasy. There is a device known as the "tuna can" or "stress simulator", which pitches back and forth and blares loud music. Red and green buttons flash on and off, and campers try to push only the red ones, even as voices from the speakers by your ears urge you to "press the green button!" The object is to get a high score, each red button awarding you points. Push three green buttons, and the simulator shuts itself off. For levels one and two, rockets are constructed and launched, along with rockets constructed by camp counselors and senior staff. Robots are built and programmed to run a course. Campers also have time set aside to walk through the museum facilities, and ever-popular gift store breaks.

For level two, campers engage in similar activities to those of level one, albeit on a slightly more advanced level. For example, for their mission in the Falcon they are supposed to fly to the International Space Station and dock, and campers encounter problems in their mission. This is also the first level that the commander of the mission has to land the shuttle manually. However, unlike their first level, campers in level two don't have as much training time, as they go on two day trips. The first one they take is to a high ropes course outside of Wichita where they complete several activities with their mission crew designed for team building- this comes in handy during the final mission, where a certain level of trust is necessary between crew members. The second trip is to a SCUBA diving center in Wichita, in which campers dive in a deep pool, simulating the micro-gravity encountered in space. This experience is very similar to NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Lab.

For level three, the camp is a bit different. The first day launches the teams directly into their Falcon training, and on the second day, the teams fly their missions. Multiple flight sims are crowded into these two days between an overwhelming number of other activities. To add to the tension, the flights for the level three teams are completely free of interference. Where level one the shuttle lands automatically, and on both level one and two assistance may be received from the camp staff, level three teams are on their own. For a commander, landing the shuttle manually in windy conditions, it is definitely a high-adrenaline experience.

On the morning of the third day, the campers are loaded onto a chartered bus, and driven several hundred miles to Houston, Texas. There they stay in a local hotel, and for the next two days tour behind the scenes at Space Center Houston. Currently, the campers are the only civilian group allowed behind the scenes at the NASA facilities in Texas. Highlights of the field trip include the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, the mock-ups of the shuttle and ISS that astronauts from around the world use to train for NASA missions, and Mission Control. FATP Level 3 is the only group allowed on the floor of the restored Apollo Mission Control Center and are allowed to sit in the chairs that once sat the founding fathers behind the first steps on the moon. If a class is lucky, they may also see the newly restored Saturn V rocket, now housed in a specially built hangar to protect it from the elements.

Don't forget the recently formed Level IV and FATP Extreme! More information on these programs later.


Included in the collection at the Cosmosphere are an SR-71 Blackbird, the Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft from Mercury 4 and the Odyssey command module from Apollo 13, as well as authentic Redstone and Titan II launch vehicles used in the Mercury and Gemini programs. Restored World War II V-1 and V-2 rockets are also on display. The Cosmosphere is the only museum in the world that has both an authentic restored V-1 flying bomb and an authentic restored V-2 rocket. It is also the only museum outside of Russia that has an authentic, flown Vostok capsule. Other notable artifacts include the Emmy Award won by the Apollo 8 mission and numerous prototype spacesuits. Along with the prototype spacesuits are some suits that have actually flown. Both American and Russian spacesuits are shown. Another prized item in the Cosmosphere's collection is a piece of moon rock.

An interesting note about the Cosmosphere collection is that nearly all of the vehicles, rockets, spacecraft, and spacesuits that you will see are either the real thing or something called a "Flight Ready Backup". A flight ready backup is identical, in all respects, to the item actually flown. If a problem is detected in a spacecraft, rocket, or suit before it is flown, the flight ready backup fills in on the mission for the damaged item. The only fake items in the cosmosphere is the model of "Glamorous Glennis," the X-1 flown by Chuck Yeager, and the life-sized space shuttle replica that greets visitors.

Other items include a collection showing the various tools and vacuum-packed foods that astronauts would carry with them on a typical mission.

The Cosmosphere museum begins with the earliest experiments in rocketry during the World War II era, explores through the "Space Race" and Cold War, and continues through the modern times with the Space Shuttle and International Space Station.

Additionally, the Cosmosphere's Space Works built much of the replicated spacecraft hardware seen in the movies Apollo 13, "From the Earth to the Moon", and Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D.

Stolen Items

In November, 2003, the Kansas Cosmosphere released a statement indicating that a routine audit had revealed many missing items from the museum. Over a year later in April, 2005, former Cosmosphere director Max Ary was charged with stealing artifacts from the museum's collection and selling the pieces for personal profit. [1] Some of the missing items included a nose cone, silk screens, boot covers, nuts and bolts, an Air Force One control panel, and a tape of the Apollo 15 landing which Ary sold for $2,200.00. [2]

Additional charges involved the theft of dozens more artifacts from the Cosmosphere when he left in 2002, and false insurance claims made on the loss of an Omega astronaut's watch replica. Ary had also failed to notify NASA of the loss of the watch. Ary went on trial in 2004. On the stand he testified that the artifacts he sold were from his private collection which he had accumulated through undocumented trades and salvage of unwanted items. He also stated he had received numerous personal gifts from astronauts. Some of the items in question were supposedly brought with him from the Noble Planetarium in 1976 and incorporated into the Kansas Cosmosphere's permanent collection, and in many cases, ownership of artifacts could not be proved on Ary's behalf or the Cosmosphere's.

Max Ary was found guilty on 12 counts. On May 15, 2006, he was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay restitution of $132,000.00.[3] In 2008 he lost his appeal and began to serve his sentence in a federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma on April 24, 2008.

Ary has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence.

Items on display

A view of the controls in the Apollo 13 command module on display at the Cosmosphere.


  1. ^ MSNBC article, access date 2007-08-30
  2. ^ collectSPACE archives of articles from The Hutchinson News, access date 2007-08-30
  3. ^ October 27 2005 article archived by collectSPACE online, access date 2007-08-30

External links

Coordinates: 38°03′54.55″N 97°55′17.64″W / 38.0651528°N 97.9215667°W / 38.0651528; -97.9215667



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