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Archive for Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Space capsule returns to state for checkup

Liberty Bell 7 in midst of national tour

June 20, 2001

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— Liberty Bell 7, the historic space capsule that was restored at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center after being pulled two years ago from the Atlantic Ocean, is due back for a brief stay.

The capsule that carried astronaut Gus Grissom into space in July 1961 sank shortly after splashdown, and it sat on the ocean floor for 38 years.

After restoration work at the Cosmosphere, the Mercury capsule last summer began a national tour of other museums. Now it will be brought back Sept. 12 for a weeklong check of its condition.

"At the halfway point of the tour, by contract the Cosmosphere does a full inspection of Liberty Bell 7," space museum curator Jim Remar said Monday. "We'll bring it here to look for any reappearance of corrosion."

Remar said the public will be able to watch the inspection on the main floor of the Cosmosphere. The capsule will be brought from St. Louis and then taken to California after the inspection.

Bits and pieces of the spacecraft were encapsulated in clear acrylic and sold to the public. Kent Shank, vice president of operations and finance for the Cosmosphere, said the last 13 Liberty Bell 7 acrylics recently were sold.

The acrylics generated about $140,000 for the Cosmosphere, he said. To coincide with the capsule's brief return to Hutchinson, Remar said a new round of acrylics would be made featuring two-inch pieces of 16mm film that were inside the space capsule's two cameras.

After being submerged in salt water for 38 years, the cameras rusted away, exposing the film.

"We hope to have the acrylics ready to go by the 40th anniversary of Grissom's launch," Remar said.

Meanwhile, Jeff Ollenburger, the Cosmosphere's vice president of marketing and programs, said a Star Wars exhibit featuring a full-sized Naboo starfighter spaceship will kick off the grand opening of the new Apollo gallery on Aug. 4.

The Star Wars exhibit made its debut at the Smithsonian Museum and drew 158,000 people, Ollenburger said.

The 40-by-30-foot starfighter is the same vehicle used in the film "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace."

"We've never attempted anything like this before," Ollenburger said. "We hope it will help generate momentum that ties in with the fantastic Apollo exhibit."

The Cosmosphere also will dedicate its new Flagpole Plaza July 3 on the south side of the Cosmosphere.

The plaza will feature three flags, including an American flag flown at the U.S. Capitol building on the 80th birthday of Cosmosphere founder Patty Carey.

The plaza also returns the massive F-1 rocket engine to public view, allowing patrons to walk beneath it and look inside. Below the engine will be a granite block commemorating master space artifact restorer Greg "Buck" Buckingham, who died in January.

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