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Visitors to Cosmosphere can watch restoration of space artifacts

Visitors to the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson are in for something new.

Starting Friday, they can purchase tickets to tour the Cosmosphere’s SpaceWorks division as workers there go about preserving Apollo F-1 artifacts. A new observation gallery has been built where visitors can look on as conservators preserve more than 25,000 pounds of artifacts plucked from the ocean, some weighing more than 2,000 pounds.

“For us, it is really exciting,” said Jim Remar, the Cosmosphere’s president and chief operating officer. “Every time I go out to SpaceWorks and see the engine components, I’m like a kid at Christmas.”

Remar said the observation gallery is a direct result of a friendship that began nearly three years ago between the Cosmosphere and Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com. Because the Cosmosphere had teamed with the Discovery Channel in recovering the Liberty Bell 7 in July 1999, Bezos was interested in teaming with the Cosmosphere on retrieving other important NASA space artifacts lying on the ocean floor.

The Liberty Bell capsule sank into the Atlantic Ocean in July 1961, minutes after astronaut Gus Grissom was successfully retrieved. Bezos has formed Bezos Expeditions, which is recovering the rocket engine artifacts from depths of 14,000 feet below the ocean’s surface.

“He visited the Cosmosphere during the 40th anniversary of Apollo 13 in 2010, and he had an introduction to us at that time,” Remar said.

Once the partnership was formed earlier this year, Bezos Expeditions began extracting as many prime pieces of space artifacts as it could.

The F-1, Remar said, represents a significant engineering achievement.

“It is the largest fuel engine ever developed and powered spacecraft to the moon. Without this engineering and development, man would not have made it to the moon,” he said. “It is extremely exciting and a privilege to be working on something so historic.”

The artifacts, which arrived in Hutchinson in March, vary in condition. After climbing high into the Earth’s atmosphere and then plunging back into the Atlantic Ocean only to spend half a century there, many are crumpled like crushed aluminium cans. Bezos Expeditions plucked the artifacts from the ocean floor by remote vehicles powered with high-definition cameras.

What SpaceWorks staff is now doing is preserving the artifacts in their current condition rather than completely restoring them. The conservation process includes cleaning, photographing and documenting.

“All corrosion that’s seen is due to saltwater and sediment from being in those depths,” Remar said.

The Cosmosphere has converted one of its warehouses into a conservation lab. Ticketholders will be shuttled to the new laboratory and gallery.

“We have created a neat environment,” Remar said. “We have historic footage of the F-1s being tested, ‘Man on the Moon’ and a two-minute clip of the Bezos expedition.”

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