Cosmosphere and Space Museum, Kansas
We never expected to find one of the world's most comprehensive space museums in the middle of rural Kansas.
So you can imagine our surprise when we discovered the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Museum while passing through Hutchinson in south-central Kansas.
Believe it or not, this 105,000-square-foot facility houses the largest collection of space suits in the world, plus one of the most significant gatherings of Russian and American space artifacts around. Step inside this museum and you'll definitely feel as though you're not in Kansas anymore!
We knew we were in for something special when we entered the museum's spacious lobby and saw a full-scale replica of the space shuttle Endeavor. Suspended above it are a rare SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, the fastest plane ever built, and a Northrop T-38 Talon. Talk about a great first impression!
We also were fascinated by the Hall of Space Museum, which chronologically tells the story of the Space Race. You'll see rare German V-1 and V-2 rockets from World War II...Cold War relics like the Bell X-1 rocket plane and Sputnik...the actual Apollo 13 command module Odyssey...and a full set of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft and their Russian counterparts--Vostok, Voskhod and Soyuz. It was nothing short of amazing to see all of these historic items in one place.
The museum also offers a first-rate planetarium, an IMAX Dome Theater and numerous educational programs.
During our visit, we learned the answer to one of our most vexing questions: What was this marvelous facility, closely affiliated with the Smithso-nian Institution's National Air and Space Museum, doing in the middle of the Kansas prairie?
As we found out, the museum was originally known as the Hutchinson Planetarium, founded by local resident Patty Carey in 1962 in the Poultry Building on the Kansas State Fairgrounds. In 1966, it was moved to the Hutchinson Community College campus.
While planning to expand the planetarium in 1976, Patty turned to Max Ary, then the head of the Noble Planetarium in Ft. Worth, Texas and a noted expert on American space artifacts and space exploration history.
Ironically, Max had worked at the Hutchinson Planetarium while in college, and at the time was serving on a Smithsonian committee trying to find a home for tens of thousands of space artifacts. So when Patty asked him if he had a good idea for a museum, well, you can guess the rest of the story!
As one of the museum's brochures notes, "It all goes to show, with vision, timing and a chicken coop, anything is possible. You can even build a space museum in Kansas."
So launch a vacation to this wonderful museum soon. It'll leave you starry-eyed!
Before You Visit... Hutchinson is 45 miles northwest of Wichita, near the junction of U.S. Highway 50 and State Highway 61.
The Cosmosphere is open daily (except on Christmas Day) from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Individual tickets for the Hall of Space Museum, the Carey IMAX Theater and the Justice Planetarium Theater are $5.50 each; a $13 fee provides access to all exhibits. For details call 1-800-397-0330.
More to See... Hedrick's Bed & Breakfast Inn and Exotic Animal Farm is 8 miles northwest of Hutchinson on State Highway 96. For details call 1-888/489-8039.
Yoder, the heart of the state's Amish community, is about 15 miles southeast of Hutchinson on Highway 96. To learn more, call the Hutchinson Convention/Visitors Bureau at 1-620/662-3391.