HUTCHINSON — The Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center isn't among the 21 museums that have expressed interest in getting one of the two space shuttles when the fleet eventually is retired.
But that doesn't mean the Cosmosphere won't have a shuttle presence.
The Cosmosphere has bid on — and received word from NASA that it will get — some shuttle artifacts, including the bright orange jumpsuits astronauts wear during takeoff and landing, shuttle sleeping bags, samples of space food, cameras, escape equipment used on the launch pad, hold-down bolts, components of the shuttle's maneuvering engines, parts of the wings, tires and other items.
"We did really well," Cosmosphere president and CEO Chris Orwoll said. "Virtually everything we asked for, we got."
NASA is periodically putting other items out for bids, which doesn't actually involve exchanging money but instead providing a plan for how the items will be displayed and how many people will have the chance to see them.
"We're sure there will be tons of opportunities for us to gain more as time goes on," said Marissa Honomichl, the Cosmosphere's vice president for development.
But an actual shuttle was a bit beyond the Cosmosphere's range.
NASA is offering to give the two surviving shuttles away, provided the museums that receive them pick up the $28.8 million tab for delivery.
But first, those museums have to have a nearby airport with a long enough runway for the special 747 jumbo jet with the shuttle loaded on top to land. The museums also must have a building in which to display the shuttle because NASA won't allow outdoor displays. Plus, you have to have a way to get the shuttle from the airport to the building. You can't dismantle the shuttle to do it, but you may have to dismantle overpasses and other structures to make way for the shuttle, which is 78 feet wide, 58 feet tall and 122 feet long.
All that, Honomichl said, could easily have turned into a $100 million project.
"That's not something we chose to pursue, primarily because of the cost," she said. "The benefit versus the cost was not there for us."
Instead, she said, the Cosmosphere's priority is making the visitor's current experience more enjoyable.
The Cosmosphere met a goal of raising local matching funds by July to qualify for a $137,000 federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The money will be used to update the museum's space exploration galleries, which currently end with the Apollo-Soyuz missions of the 1970s, and add more interactive exhibits.
Two new galleries are planned. One will be in the hallway connecting the planetarium and Dr. Robert Goddard's lab, which will be devoted to unmanned exploration of space, including the Hubble Space Telescope, planetary probes and the future of space flight. Construction on that gallery will begin this fall.
Another new gallery downstairs will be devoted to the space shuttle and the International Space Station. Construction will begin next year.
Meanwhile, the Cosmosphere has raised more than $500,000 toward its three-year capital campaign goal of $2.5 million, Orwoll said.
Orwoll said he hopes to have the campaign wrapped up within a year, though pledges will turn into donations over three to five years.
But the money in hand so far has allowed the Cosmosphere to pay down the mortgage on the former Hutchinson Floral Shop across 11th Avenue to the point that the building can be razed. And by this time next year, he said, the site should be a rocket park displaying a number of rockets now stored in a warehouse.