For many, if you ask when the Space Race began, they would say the launch of Sputnik. But if you look a little further back, one could argue that the Space Race began in the years after World War II with the ballistic missile programs of the United States and the Soviet Union. In Hitler’s evil quest to build ballistic missiles, he brought together some of the world’s finest engineers who laid the groundwork for future space travel. Engineers like Wernher von Braun – who became the technical director of Germany’s long-range missile program. After surrendering to the U.S. Army, Wernher von Braun and other V-2 experts revealed the capabilities of their rockets and began what was known as “Operation Paperclip”.
On a recent day date with my husband to the Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center in Hutchinson, Kansas, we heard firsthand the non-biased, definitive story of the Space Race. With a U.S. space artifact collection second only to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the largest collection of Russian space artifacts outside of Moscow, the Hall of Space Museum at the Cosmosphere is known by space enthusiasts worldwide. The Hall of Space Museum is only one of three museums in the world to display flown spacecraft from all three early-manned American Space programs – Mercury (Liberty Bell 7), Gemini (Gemini X), and Apollo (Apollo 13).
Lobby: The second you walk through the doors into the lobby of the Kansas Cosmosphere you are greeted by an amazing SR-71 Blackbird directly above you. This Lockheed rocket with wings is able to travel at speeds faster than a bullet and at altitudes where no other planes may dare to be. One of the most interesting facts I read about this awesome spy-jet is that when the pilots were ready to eat, they would simply hold their food to the windows that heated in flight to more than 600 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s hot!
Carey IMAX Dome Theater: As the 12th IMAX theater built in the world, the Carey IMAX wraps up, down, and around its audience. The 44-square foot screen is perforated with thousands of tiny holes that allow digital surround sound to stream throughout the theater. While we were there, we had the opportunity to watch Flying Monsters – a documentary film about the world’s first flying vertebrae’s which grew to have a 40ft wingspan. The story of how and why these mysterious creatures took to the air is more fantastic that any fiction. Check the website to find out what’s playing before your visit.
Justice Planetarium: In the Justice Planetarium, a star ball and projection system displays the night sky onto a large overhead domed screen. The Planetarium features a multimedia exploration of the solar system, navigational technology, deep space, and astronomical research. This was by far my most favorite part of all the attractions. Our “host” was comical and knowledgeable, and even showed us what the night sky would look like the night we were there. Music was played as she showed the night sky through all four of the seasons and even made us get up and dance to make sure we were wide awake. She was awesome and made our learning experience fun!
Dr. Goddard’s Lab: In this live demonstration show of early rocket technology, the audience is transported back to the 1930’s lab of Dr. Robert Goddard – the pioneer of modern rocketry and, in a humorous and entertaining way, taught us about how today’s rockets really work. Demonstrations of Goddard’s early experiments with liquid fueled rocket engines definitely ended with a bang and is one to watch with the little ones!
Cold War: Chronicling the first steps of both the U.S. and Soviet space programs, this gallery brings to life the Cold War standoff between the superpowers and the early drama of the Space Race.
Mollett Early Spaceflight Gallery: Visitors come face-to-face with American heroes … and Soviet secrets. Actual spacecraft, hardware, spacesuits and training gear from the American and Russian programs capture the ingenuity, accomplishment, and tension of the times as two Cold War enemies competed in the race to the Moon.
Apollo Gallery: From Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon to Gene Cernan’s last steps on the lunar surface, this gallery embodies the world’s most amazing technological achievement: America’s presence the Moon.
Little known fact: The Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center first made its start in an old poultry building on the Kansas State Fairgrounds. Since then it has grown into a 105,000 square foot facility that takes over 150,000 visitors a year on a Space Race journey to the moon and back.
When Hutchinson civic leader and amateur astronomer, Patricia Brooks Carey first opened the Hutchinson Planetarium in 1962, no one envisioned her dream would evolve into the world-renowned space museum it is today.
NOTE – Plan to spend no less than 90 minutes in the museum. There is a lot to see and do at the Cosmosphere. To make your trip easier, check out their website for hours of operation, admission prices, current attractions, and sample itineraries.
Next time you’re in/around the Hutchinson area – which is a short 54 miles from Wichita, Ks – make sure to visit the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. I promise you … it will be an experience you will not soon forget and an education adventure that will be invaluable for the whole family.
Disclosure: My husband and I were provided complimentary admission to the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. I was not asked to write a review (of any sort) in exchange for admission. Opinions expressed here are entirely my own.
Amanda is a freelance writer and blog owner of “The Procrastinating Mommy” – a PR friendly family blog. You can also follow her on Twitter at: @Amanda_aka_Mom or on Facebook at: The Procrastinating Mommy.