• Engineers for Lockheed Martin Gordon Hornbaker and Travis DeSair takes photos of the Apollo 13 command module capsule Saturday at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center.The two took photos and measurements of the capsule to see how engineers of 40 years ago designed a vehicle to send a manned mission to the moon for the design of the Orion spacecraft which will replace the Space Shuttles. (Travis Morisse)

Cosmosphere unveils restored Apollo 13 capsule

Friday, August 10, 2001

With their spacecraft slowly dying from a crippling explosion in space, the crew of Apollo 13 had no guarantee they'd make it home alive.

For four days the three astronauts hoarded oxygen and electrical supplies in the cramped lunar module as they waited for the moon's gravity to hurl them back toward Earth. NASA engineers scrambled on the ground to ensure the best chance for survival.

Now the story of that dramatic mission, including the historic capsule that ferried them home, is the core of a newly opened gallery which tells the story of the Apollo program at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center.

"This is beautiful and so emotional," said Cosmosphere visitor Mary Ann Tyre of Wakefield Thursday, while viewing the upturned Apollo 13 command module, Odyssey.

A history buff, Tyre made the trek to Hutchinson with her two 12-year-old grandchildren, Ashley and Matt Norwood.

The command module is displayed on a tilt, so visitors can both peer inside the open door of the narrow capsule and observe the charring on the module's heat shield from re-entry into the earth's atmosphere.

The capsule first arrived at the Cosmosphere in 1997, where it was dismantled into its more than 80,000 pieces, cleaned and restored by Cosmosphere space-artifact technicians.

"No one else has an Apollo display quite like this," said Karen Siebert, Cosmosphere marketing director.

Allan Needell, chairman of the space history division of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, agreed.

Needell, one of three Smithsonian staff people who were on hand at Saturday's opening, marveled at how they were able to tilt the capsule in such a small space.

"It was extraordinary how they were able to tilt it so as not to damage it," he said.

Before the Cosmosphere could move the space capsule, the Smithsonian Museum required an engineering study to determine the stresses involved moving the 7,900-pound capsule. BG Consultants of Hutchinson completed the $2,900 study.

Near tragedy

The Apollo 13 mission, intended to be the third lunar landing, was instead the first in the Apollo program requiring an emergency abort.

On April 13th, 1970, four-fifths of the way to the moon, Apollo 13 was crippled when a tank containing liquid oxygen burst. The astronauts -- Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise -- had to use the moon's gravity to circle the moon, without landing, and return to Earth earlier than planned, arriving barely before the oxygen was depleted.

Visitors can actually see the service module oxygen tank that was ruptured, cutting off the command module's normal supply of electricity, light and water.

Several other historical space displays also featured include one of the 2,000-pound shoes from a crawler that carried the Saturn V rocket to the launch pad.

Cosmosphere director Max Ary had always wanted a crawler shoe for an exhibit, Siebert said.

"One day, out of the blue, this guy called and said he had lots of them, but they were housed at an HUD site in wooden crates," she said. "Someone thought they were baby shoes and had shipped them to HUD. That just goes to show, you just never know where you will find things."

Another unique display is the White Room that was attached to a 60-foot-long cantilevered swing arm and connected to the rocket gantry.

"This is where they did their final suit checks and said their good-byes," Siebert said. "There are only two in existence. The other is at the Kennedy Space Center in Houston."

Another exhibit displays the personal items that were used by astronauts aboard Apollo flights.

"The astronauts had to be prepared for anything, so they took along things like dental and medical kits," Siebert said. "My favorite piece in this exhibit is the Dentyne gum that they found lodged in the control system filter that astronaut Tom Stafford took into flight."

The Apollo Gallery that is housed in the Hall of Space Museum also has several interactive displays including an actual Mission Control panel from Houston that features touch screens with information about the flights of different missions.

One of the largest collections of spacesuits also hangs in the hallway, including Apollo 13 mission commander Jim Lovell's space suit.

Phase two of the Apollo Gallery is scheduled to open in December and will include the Cosmosphere's moon rock, lunar pathfinder vehicle, lunar soil and more informative displays about the Apollo program.

The Hall of Space Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 9 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call the Cosmosphere at (620) 662-2305 or 1-800-397-0330.