cosmosphere-white-glove-alert-signIf you’ve read the book The Right Stuff or seen the movie, you’re familiar with the story of Gus Grissom and Liberty Bell 7.

It’s one of the many dramatic moments in the history of the US space program – did astronaut Grissom panic and prematurely blow the hatch on his spacecraft, thereby sinking it into the Pacific, or was he justified in his decision and has unfairly suffered a bum rap all these years?

There’s one place where you can see the actual Liberty Bell 7 and learn about its history, and it’s in….wait for it….Hutchinson, Kansas.

Yes, in the middle of wheat and sunflower country is a world-class museum devoted to the history of space exploration – it’s the Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson.

On a recent blogger’s familiarization tour to learn more about the city, we were given a behind-the-scenes look at many wonderful “Cos” artifacts by Chris Orwoll, the Cosmosphere CEO. Wouldn’t you know; he also turned out to be a former shipmate of mine from my Navy days.

Chris is a super guy and so fired up about the incredible museum that he runs – deservedly so! The treasures that he showed us are not only for “special” visitors – the museum regularly hosts free “Coffee at the Cosmo” sessions, and they rummage in the storage areas to bring out items to show guests (as if you couldn’t already spend many hours looking at the items on display out in the exhibit areas.)

There are astronaut speakers pretty frequently, and monthly adults-only “Spirits and Stars,” to sip adult beverages and enjoy planetarium shows, telescopes and special tours.

In virtual outreach, there’s a UStream video show -  What’s Up at the Cos? – and they’re on Facebook and Twitter (Chris is @CosmosphereCEO and educator Joel is @CosED.)

The video below is Chris showing some of the beautifully-preserved artifacts from the museum’s complete recovery and restoration of Liberty Bell 7, which is on permanent display at the Cosmosphere.

I’m always tickled to visit someplace that on the surface, well, might not seem to have much going on, but that’s what makes travel such a pleasure. You’ve got to keep your eyes open. Hutchinson has a lot going on (I have more posts to come) and the Cosmosphere is a jewel in the crown.

Go see it.

(If you can’t see the embedded video box below, here is the URL directly to the video on my YouTube channel.)

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(Update June 2009 – I’ve decided that my Hutch posts warrant an additional disclosure line since some readers might not understand the term “blogger fam tour.” The Cosmosphere and Hutchinson CVB paid for my lodging and expenses while I was in Hutchinson. They did not tell me what I could or could not write about. I paid my own airfare to/from Kansas.)