Even before you walk through the door, you'll be amazed at the nationally acclaimed Kansas Cosmosphere Space Center in Hutchinson (60 miles northwest of Wichita). Rockets as tall as downtown high rises tower in front of the mammoth, angular brick-and-steel building.
The cosmosphere showcases 3 acres of planes, rockets, space gear and other high-flying hardware. That's more than anywhere else in the U.S., except the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
In the Hall of Space Museum, you can view the command module Odyssey from the nearly tragic Apollo 13 lunar mission in 1970. The capsule still bears scars of its treacherous re-entry.
Trace the start of the American-Soviet Union space race in the Early Space Exploration Gallery. You'll see the Bell X-1 rocket plane and Sonic Wind II rocket sled, plus flight-ready models of the Soviet satellites Sputniks I and II, the first manmade objects to orbit the Earth.
The American and Soviet Gallery details the race to the moon. Visitors marvel at the gear a Soviet cosmonaut wore as the first woman to "walk" in space.
The three-story domed, wraparound screen of the cosmosphere's IMAX theater takes viewers on daredevil flights with the Blue Angels, as well as other adventures. The new Justice Planetarium presents regular programs about the night sky, along with popular laser shows, in which lights dance to rock music.
During weeklong summer camps, young wannabe astronauts can sign on for the Cosmosphere's Future Astronaut Training Program, funded NASA. Junior-high-age youngsters experience five times the force of gravity in a centrifuge and complete a simulated space shuttle mission. Other programs show adults what it takes to be astronauts, with stints in all of the cosmosphere's training simulators.
For more information, contact: Hutchinson Convention & Visitors Bureau (316/662-3391).
Reviewed April 2004.