BORIS, IT’S LOOKS LIKE WE’RE IN KANSAS
It’s not that strange that someone would amass a collection of equipment from the former Soviet Union’s space program, including space suits, an Apollo-Soyuz Test Project Craft, a Vostok space capsule that competed with our Mercury program, and an original flight-ready backup of Sputnik, the first human-made satellite in orbit.
It’s not even that strange that all of the Soviet equipment is on display next to hundreds of artifacts from the American space program, including the original Gemini 10 space capsule, moon rocks and the Apollo 13 command module, Odyssey. You know, the “Houston, we’ve had a problem” command module.
Oh yeah, and then there’s an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile parked on the front lawn.
What does seem odd is that what’s possibly the largest combined U.S.-Soviet collection of Cold War space-race artifacts isn’t in the Smithsonian, Cape Canaveral or Moscow.
It’s in Kansas.
About an hour’s drive northwest of Wichita is the community of Hutchinson, known locally as “Hutch,” home to 42,000 people. It’s also home to the Cosmosphere, an international science education center and space museum with a surprising collection of more than 13,000 spaceflight artifacts in what seems like a less-than-likely location.
The location, apparently, has everything to do with the Cosmosphere’s founder, Patty Carey. In 1962, Carey was concerned about the U.S. falling behind in the space race, so she raised money to buy a second-hand Spitz A-1 planetarium projector and a dome, and set up rented folding chairs in the Poultry Building of the Kansas State Fair Grounds. It was one of the first public planetariums in the Central U.S., according to the Cosmosphere’s site online.
Years went by, money was raised, the facility was moved and was expanded to a spacious 105,000 square feet. The complex now includes educational “space camp” and “future astronaut” programs that may well be training the next generation for the International Space Station or, even Mars, for that matter.
But where did the artifacts come from? It’s not like you can drive over to the swap meet in Wichita and pick up the actual understudy for Sputnik 1. In the late 1980s and early ‘90s the Russian economy was deteriorating, says Jim Remar, president and CEO for Cosmosphere, and that the museum QUOTE “developed some really good relationships in the Soviet Space program.” END QUOTE
Records aren’t great for every acquisition, Remar says, but nearly everything came from three sources: buying items outright from entities in Russia; numerous auctions for space artifacts; and from the collection of “Soviet Space,” a traveling museum exhibit that went broke in the 1990s.
It’s worth pointing out that space exploration artifacts are big business, and that Sotheby’s hosts space-specific auctions and holds the record for most expensive American artifact, a QUOTE “Lunar Sample return bag” END QUOTE from Apollo 11 that sold for $1.8 million dollars.
Among Cosmosphere’s most-prized items are:
The original Gemini X capsule that carried astronauts John Young and Michael Collins in 1966;
The space suit Wally Schirra wore on his Mercury-Atlas 8 mission;
A Redstone Atomic Warhead;
The aforementioned Apollo 13 command module;
And a 109-foot Gemini Titan rocket.
Then there’s the Liberty Bell 7, Gus Grissom’s spacecraft from only the second manned U.S. mission, that spent 38 years at the bottom of the Atlantic. Cosmosphere’s SpaceWorks program, which restores and replicates spaceflight artifacts including the Apollo 13 module, spent years restoring the waterlogged Liberty Bell 7.
What’s the most out-of-the-ordinary artifact in an outer space museum? Probably the Luna Sphere, says Remar. It’s a copy of the soccer-ball-like orb with spring-loaded pentagon-shaped badges that the Soviets launched at the moon in 1959 from the unmanned Luna 2 spacecraft. The original was the first human-made object to hit the moon.
Remar says QUOTE “I believe there are only three of those in existence.” END QUOTE
There’s one at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, which means that while Moscow has one, the only other two in the world are in, you guessed it, Kansas.
TALE OF TWO TEDDY BEARS
A captain with discount airline EasyJet created a sentimental sensation in 2016 when he tried to reunite a teddy bear that was left behind on a flight with its owner. The bear, found on a trip from Bordeaux to Luton, spent weeks riding along with the pilot, who nicknamed it Shackleton and posted its adventures on social media.
The delightful story captured the attention of the media in early 2017, including at Conde-Nast Traveler online, where a writer posted: QUOTE “The EasyJet bear is a particularly heartwarming tale of air travel employee kindness—and it will hit you right in the feels if you’ve ever been the stressed out parent of a child who’s lost their trusted stuffed companion.” END QUOTE
Probably true — unless you’re the parent of Alba Apreciado-Peris, a six-year-old girl in 2009 who was prevented from boarding an EasyJet flight with her teddy bear, Bebe, because the “trusted stuffed companion” was deemed “excess baggage” by the EasyJet check-in clerk.
Alba’s family was told she would have to pay 9 British pounds (about $15 dollar U.S. at the time) to put the bear in the plane’s luggage storage, but the family instead decided to mail the bear home. Eventually, after the incident was widely reported, EasyJet blamed it on the worker’s “lack of common sense,” according to DailyMail.com, and offered to reimburse the cost of shipping Bebe the bear.
In a statement, EasyJet said: QUOTE “It is worth passengers considering that while we have restrictions as to size, unlike other airlines we have no restrictions on weight.” END QUOTE
So the lesson is: If you’re flying EasyJet, buy your kid a smaller bear. One made of lead.
IT’S A SMALL (NOISY) WORLD
It’s a pretty safe bet that most fans of Disney’s theme parks, given how, um, enthusiastic they tend to be, wish that most of the rides would last a little bit longer.
Jose Martinez is not one of them.
In 2009, Martinez and his wife were most of the way through the much beloved “It’s a Small World” attraction, which Disneyland’s website describes as QUOTE “a whimsical boat ride for a song-filled journey around the globe—this cherubic chorus is pure joy!” END QUOTE
Until it breaks down. Park employees were able to evacuate most of the riders, but Martinez, who is quadraplegic, was stuck in his boat for 30 minutes in the Goodbye Room toward the end, waiting for crews to fix the ride.
And they couldn’t shut off the music.
Apparently, the “cherubic chorus” eventually stops being “pure joy.” National Public Radio’s “All Songs Considered” show once labeled “It’s a Small World” as one of the most “relentless earworms” in music history, although rumors that the CIA used the repetitive song for interrogating terrorists has never been substantiated.
Based on a 2009 YouTube video posted by ThemeParkInsider.com, the version of the song played inside the ride is different (and longer) than the popular recorded version. Each chorus (two rounds and a refrain) is 48 seconds long, so Martinez listened to the song an extra 37.5 times, on top of the 13 times he listened to it during the ride (since he was near the end). And in the Goodbye Room, the song only plays in English, so there isn’t the variety of languages to break up to maddening repetition.
Because this is America, Martinez and his wife sued, and a judge in 2013 awarded them $8,000. Not including legal fees, that works out to about $266 per minute of waiting, or roughly $160 per “cherubic chorus.”