Hutchinson In a warehouse west of downtown Hutchinson, three employees of Spaceworks are putting the finishing touches on a full-scale replica of an Apollo command module and another replica of the forward cockpit of a lunar ascent stage.
Before the end of the month, both will be packed up into oceanic shipping containers and dispatched on a six-week voyage to Stockholm.
They'll soon be followed by about 100 other artifacts from the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center on a five-year tour of museums in several European cities. "NASA — A Human Experience," produced by the Dutch company John Nurminen Events in co-operation with the Cosmosphere, NASA, the Discovery Channel, the State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics in Moscow and White Room Artifacts, opens on Jan. 28 at Stockholm's National Museum of Science and Technology.
The world was captivated by man's first landing on the moon by U.S. astronauts in 1969, and Meredith Miller, collections manager for the Cosmosphere, said Europeans remain fascinated with spaceflight.
"We know that American space history is big and grand and awed at in the European community," she said.
Two Portuguese men she has worked with on the traveling exhibit told her it was "way cooler than any Bruce Springsteen concert."
The Cosmosphere frequently loans artifacts to other museums and organizations, including the National Archives, the Nixon, Ford and Johnson presidential libraries and the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in Oregon. But this is a bigger loan than the Cosmosphere usually makes, Miller said.
Among the 100 or so artifacts that will be loaned to the traveling exhibit are a Mission Control console, rocket engines, astronaut gloves, in-flight coveralls, examples of food the astronauts ate, some parts recovered from Liberty Bell 7, a section of floor grate from Skylab. Even "bathroom stuff — everybody likes to know how it works in space," Miller said. They'll also send along some fragments of the skin of a World War II German V-2 rocket, the world's first ballistic missile.
The exhibit will tell the story of space exploration from Dr. Robert Goddard's early experiments with rockets, to German scientist Werner von Braun and his key post-war role in the U.S. Space program, to the Apollo moon landings and recent and future space flight.
"It's really going to be like our museum but on a smaller scale," she said.
The exhibits will tour Europe for at least five years, and there's a possibility of another five-year run if interest remains high.
Spaceworks, which is operated by the Cosmosphere, has been working on the replicas of the Apollo command module and lunar ascent stage for the exhibit for about a year.
Spaceworks builds exhibits for the Cosmosphere and other museums, does restoration and conservation work on authentic space artifacts and builds replicas for museums and movies. Spaceworks built sets and replicated 5,000 artifacts for Tom Hanks' 1995 hit movie, "Apollo 13."
Spaceworks boss Dale Capps has been working for the Cosmosphere for 12 years. He started out building galleries at the museum, then worked his way into doing restoration, including restoring Liberty Bell 7, Gus Grissom's Mercury space capsule that spent 30 years on the bottom of the sea. He's also helped build a number of replicas, including a full-scale Lunar Excursion Module and a Lunar Rover.
The replicas being built by Spaceworks' three-man crew for the traveling exhibit will remain the property of John Nurminen Events after the tour concludes, though some authentic artifacts, including astronaut seats from a NASA command module simulator, will be removed and returned to the Cosmosphere.
The lunar ascent stage is the part of the lunar lander the astronauts used to return from the surface to the orbiting Apollo command module. The replica being built by Spaceworks is a cutaway version of the forward section of the cockpit, so that visitors to the exhibit will be able to look through a glass panel to see where the astronauts would have stood and the small triangular windows they would have looked through to see the surface of the moon.
"We try to use research to make it as close as we can get it," said Don Aich, one of three employees of Spaceworks. "We have to dig."
Aich spent about three months working on a replica of the hatch to an Apollo command module. With all the complex levers, handles, other parts and markings, it looked like the real thing. But it was made entirely of molded plastic parts created at Spaceworks. Only one handle was an authentic NASA artifact.
"I think all of us (at Spaceworks) have a little bit of artistic skills," Aich said. "It's something you have to have to dream it up and make the illusion look real."
A real command module is nearly 11 feet tall and 13 feet in diameter and weighs nearly 13,000 pounds. Although full size, Spaceworks' replica is made of lightweight fiberglass. It will split down the middle for shipping.
Capps, Aich and one other employee will travel to Stockholm on Dec. 9 to assemble the command module and other displays being built for the traveling exhibit. They'll be followed in January by Miller and one other Cosmosphere employee who will dress mannequins and help prepare other exhibits.
"It's neat stuff we get to work on," Aich said.