69. Soviet Spacecraft in the American Heartland: The Story of the Kansas Cosmosphere

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Welcome to museum archipelago. I'm ian elsner pews. Eum archipelago guides you through the rocky landscape of museums each episode so he's never longer than fifteen minutes so let's get started. There are many sites on earth that play a role in human spaceflight the mission control building in houston texas where flight engineers communicated with the apollo astronauts on the moon or even the grassy field in south eastern russia where eureka garin landed to end his his mission as the first person in space but hutchinson kansas isn't one of these sites. No spacecraft engineering happened here like in huntsville alabama. Emma no rocket engine testing happened here like in pearling taken mississippi. There's not even a historic exploration related radio telescope here like in parks australia despite this hutchinson a town a forty thousand people is home to the cosmos fear a massive space museum. The cosmos here boasts enormous collection the spacecraft including the largest collection of soviet space hardware anywhere outside russia. How did all of these space are the facts and up in the middle of kansas to find out. I visited hutchinson to talk to causes here curator shannon wetzel. I think some of our brochure say why not us right. The story of the cosmos fear is more or less the right place at the right time. What's all says that the museum museum has had many decades to be in the right place at the right time. Hello my name is shannon wetzel and i am the curators here at the concentrate the cosmos fears. I was a star projector in folding chairs so up at the kansas state fairgrounds in nineteen sixty two by woman named patty carey she was inspired spire by the launch of sputnik and ultimately wanted to set up a space science center in the mid west the volunteers. We have who knew her personally. I did not know her. Personally have pretty not much call her very nice arm-twister. You didn't say no to patty kerry and that planetarium grew to what you say now by the late nineteen seventies his potty carey was making plans to transform the planetarium into the kansas causes fear and discovery center the collection as we know it started in in the late nineteen seventies nasa is looking to a hedge singers unload but looking to get some hardware out there for the public to see and the cosmos fear was beginning its first expansion so we had the space and the connections. That's how we wound up. Collecting eighteen space harbor the cosmos fear was in the right place a big building in the mid west and the right time the late nineteen seventy s the era was a strange time for space exploration. It was after the apollo program but before the space shuttle the smithsonian errands space museum opened in washington dc in nineteen seventy six and and i get the sense of the whole bunch of space artifacts that didn't make the cut for that museum ended up in hutchinson this massoni and nass. I mean they want to get ed stuff stuff artifacts priceless our tracks out for the public to see everywhere and maybe also that's a sign of their success status and they have gotten into the mid west and it's been a priority and we are so grateful to the smithsonian. I don't know if you noticed on our labels. How many of our items on display are from from them and we're just grateful to be. I believe we are the only smithsonian affiliated kansas looking carefully at the collection. You also see another pattern hardware from missions that didn't go exactly as planned. It is heavily damaged mercury boilerplate capsule from the mercury atlas one mission. There's liberty bell seven another mercury capsule. That was the u._s.'s second human spaceflight mission in nineteen sixty one the astronaut survived but the capsule sink into the ocean and wasn't recovered until nineteen ninety nine and then there's the apollo thirteen command module odyssey which was restored and added to the museum in nineteen ninety five live at the end of the apollo thirteen mission. The astronauts were home safe. It was fantastic and then it was viewed more as a failure than success. Apollo thirteen was displayed in france. It wasn't viewed as something that should be around here necessarily and and so yes it was on display in france for awhile and then our guys restored it. I can't imagine any museum turning away the apollo thirteen command module today but but it is the cosmos fears ethos to say yes to an unwanted unrestored artifact even if that artifact is sitting under the water or somewhere in france they see the investment in the recovery and the restoration as well worth the effort to add it to their collection but there's also a bigger point that the museum is making thing with the collection as a whole space exploration is as much about the failures as it is about the successes. I believe that apollo thirteen had come up with contingency plan before it wasn't on the fly and in a way it was testing their contingency plan and it went wonderful. They got home safely. We discuss a lot. I know about how it seems in our culture. There's a fear of failure. We are afraid to fail or if something doesn't work the first time that means that idea should be discarded and i think that that's not what got us to the moon. That's not what made our space program successful so without meaning to. That's kind of become one of our catchphrases around here. Don't want our campers our students to be afraid to fail but the collection it wasn't just made up of american space hardware. The cosmic sphere also boasts the largest collection of soviet space artifacts anywhere outside of russia and this fills in the sizable reasonable gaps of how most other space museum's present the space race the cozma sphere team which included patty carey served obtaining soviet space hardware in in the late nineteen eighty s and early nineteen ninety s again right place at the right time. The soviet union was cobbling. They were looking to get rid of some of their artifacts artifacts. We worked through a broker and we were able to obtain them so they are part of our collection. They are not loaned pieces by the decision to try and collect them. Why why didn't other museums try to in the same way that you did. I think that our early leaders were very visionary in what we could become and recognize that in a sense we were only telling half the story half of the space race coury is colored red and filled with soviet space objects and text about the soviet human spaceflight program and the other half is blue telling the american story. Our gallery is is setup particularly well in the sense that you get a comparison. We split the gallery in a sense where you can see. This is kind of what was going going on the soviet union at the time. This is what the americans were doing. I think that our gallery does a really good job of comparing the two in a linear way so you can say okay during the mercury program and here's the vostok program the effect is striking the causes fear is not a design museum but by putting the artifacts from two different superpowers superpower's close to one another you get an appreciation for the subtle and not so subtle differences in the industrial design compare the design language of the soviet looking at the moon rover on display at the museum with the american mars rovers that americans might be more familiar with and you can see the different ways each program approach the problems of surviving in space even without the color coordination wessels favourite soviet are the fact is the luna sphere a copy of a soccer soccer ball shaped device carried by luna to whose only purpose was to cover its crash landing site on the moon with little pendants embossed with images of the hammer encircle. The soviet sent the luna sphere and it's just a small ball that upon landing it has a small explosive in it and all of these little art gallery calls them cosmic calling cards all of these cosmic calling cards go all over the surface of the moon. What a nice little just such a <hes> a metaphor for the cold war a little stick in the eye wetzel said that it's becoming increasingly difficult to teach younger generations about the political context context of the space race after all. It's been thirty years since the berlin wall fell very difficult to explain. I would even say the cold war is kind of difficult to explain because first of all they didn't live through it. I don't know if you did but i mean i was on the tail end of it. It wasn't isn't black and white there was so much great and i think that's the difficult part especially you've seen. Our gallery is pretty big. A forty five minute tour down there you just barely make it to the shuttle and that's if you're rushing so it's difficult to portray those ideas in a short amount of time to a younger audience no matter what you do do it gets wrapped up nice eight as we change here on earth so too does the way we teach the story of spaceflight what's will give me me an example of the list of items. Humans have left on the moon. A list that includes everything from the propagandistic lewis fear pendants to actual trash left there by the apollo astronauts. I didn't with our campus yesterday. We do a collection sure and i was telling they were appalled. I was like wow the generational it were hauled. What we we trashed the moon and i'm only did this is one of the reasons i will always keep coming back to space museum's museums. The environmental consciousness that the apollo program itself sparked by its images of tiny fragile borderless earth now gets the chance to reevaluate valuate apollo a new and that's just one of the ways that the cosmic sphere free from specific location can tell the story of human space exploration better than the site-specific museum visiting the johnson space flight center in houston texas visitors learn how that site play the role in the larger apollo missions visiting using the parkes observatory in australia. You can learn about how that radio telescope was instrumental in broadcasting famous images of neil armstrong stepping onto the moon and to the rest of the world. The cosmos fear allows visitors to take a step back. This has been museum archipelago. Hi it's again since you've listened all the way to the end. I'm going to go out on a limb and say you're a fan of museum. Archipelago join other fans by subscribing to club archipelago. It's not so secret club that gives you access to a special bonus features like longer versions of some of my interviews my my take on the museum industry an inside a tours of museums all around the world all with the same humor and quality. You've come to expect from museum. Archipelago repel ago joined today two dollars a month on patriot dot com slash museum archipelago and get museum cappella lugar stickers mailed straight to your door. That's patriot dot com slash museum archipelago to join club archipelago book. You'll find a full transcript of this episode kalang with show nuts at museum archipelago dot com. If this is your show don't forget to subscribe for free in your favorite podcast player. Thanks for listening and next time bring a friend.

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