The day after the eclipse we left Milford and headed southwest to Hutchinson, Kansas. Hutchinson is nicknamed “Salt of the Earth” because the mining and processing of salt as been a major industry since 1888. Instead of the natural gas they were looking and hoping for in 1887, they discovered a salt bed 300 to 350 feet thick and 600 feet below the Kansas wheat fields. If they had dug a little deeper they would have discovered oil that is now part of Hutchinson’s economy along with wheat.
We camped at the nice Hutchinson County Fairgrounds at a full hookup site. Our last days in Milford the heat index had reached 104 degrees, so we were glad to see cooler temperatures forecast for our stay here.
We visited the excellent Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center which is affiliated with the Smithsonian. It has one of the largest internationally acclaimed space artifact collections in the world. We were amazed at the wealth of information and number of items on display. It is hard to choose what information and pictures to share without overwhelming our readers.
In the lobby area they have a Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird spy plane and a full size mock up of the Shuttle Endeavor.
We were beyond amazed to see they have an actual V-1 and V-2 German rocket, one of the few complete sets of “V” weapons in the world. They also have the Russian Sputnik I backup unit, the Liberty Bell 7 Mercury capsule recovered from the ocean floor, the Gemini X, and the Apollo XIII Command Module.
Some information we learned:
- One of the most destructive weapons from World War II was the German development of the modern ballistic missile. However in the years after the war the same technology would be used to begin the peaceful exploration of space.
- The Treaty of Versailles after World War I forbid German from building offensive artillery weapons. But Hitler found a loophole in the treaty did not mention ballistic rockets. This oversight would present a huge challenge to the world in the years to come. “Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.” Ecclesiastes 9:18
- Hitler’s top weapons were his V1 and V2 weapons with needle noses that were packed with a ton of explosives. The V stood for Vengeance. Hitler had many weapons that were technologically far ahead of their time.
Fortunately they were finished too late in the war to have much of an impact. It is estimated that if the war had lasted another six to twelve months it was possible the Germans would have had ready a giant multistage rocket capable of reaching New York City. During the war, Germany maintained an active program to develop atomic weapons and were even ahead of the Americans in nuclear research. They had plans to have enough radioactive material for a test explosion in late 1943 or early 1944. Documentation was found indicating a modified V-2 rocket was being designed to carry an atomic warhead for attacks against Allied Forces in Europe. Allied bombing raids successfully delayed them. I don’t even want to think about the what ifs!!
- The birthplace of the modern rocket was located in northern Germany on the coast of the Baltic Sea in one of the most top secret facilities of Nazi Germany. Later they moved to a facility in the mountains of central Germany. This would become the largest underground factory in the world. The Germans produced as many as twenty V-2 rockets and nearly 100 V-1 flying bombs a day.
- This underground facility had over 11,000 male prisoners of Soviet, French or Polish descent, but no Jews. They worked sixteen hour days and suffered from hunger, disease and torture. By the end of WWII, more than 20,000 men had died here. “Pay no attention to the human cost. The work must go ahead and in the shortest possible time.” General Hans Kammler. (Kammler was the builder of the Auschwitz gas chambers and the underground factory)
- Wernher Von Braun and his German rocket team used the concepts created by the American rocket engineer Robert Goddard. The American government and military had ignored Goddard’s work but the Germans understood its importance.
- The V-2 was known as “Phantom Thunder” since it could hit suddenly and without warning at speeds of more than 3,200 mph. Except for the Atomic Bomb, it was the most terrifying and sophisticated man-made weapon of its time. “If I had had these rockets in 1939, we should never have had this war…….Europe and the world will be too small from now on to contain a war. With such weapons, humanity will be unable to endure it”. Adolf Hitler after watching film of successful V-2 launch
- Dr Wernher Von Braun’s work led to the development of Germany’s V-2 rocket that would kill tens of thousands. But he saw his work as a way to fulfill his dream of space travel. He has been seen both as an engineering genius as well as an opportunist who supported Hitler’s efforts to pay for his dreams.
- The only way the Germans knew if the missiles were landing in London was by secret radio communications with German spies located throughout London. The Germans did not know that toward the end of the war and during the time of the “V” weapon blitz on London, the Allies had captured all the German spies and had turned some of them into double agents. The information on coordinate impact they were sending back to the German launch crews were inaccurate. The misinformation caused the launch crews to change their trajectory of the missiles which sent them west of London. The Germans thought they were impacting the center of London. The German double agents were so convincing that one received the German Iron Cross from Hitler and then later the Victoria Cross from Winston Churchill.
- By 1945, WWII had directly affected nearly half the countries of the world. Fifty countries had joined the Allied Forces of Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union with 60 million military soldiers. They fought against 30 million soldiers of nine Axis powers led by Nazi Germany, Italy and Japan. By the end of the war nearly five percent of the world’s natural resources were used up. In today’s terms several trillion dollars was spent by the sixty nations. More than 16 million soldiers and 50 million civilians died.
- With WWI and WWII occurring within two generations of each other, Great Britain and France were brought to their knees, never to recover their world domination. With Germany destroyed, it left the United States and the Soviet Union as the two new superpowers. While they had been close allies during the war, they now struggled with different ideologies. This struggle would shape the world for the next fifty years or more with both nations wanting to provide global leadership.
- The Germans had committed more than twice the financial resources to developing the V-2 than the United States had spent on the entire Manhattan Project to invent the atomic bomb. The United States and the Soviet Union knew that capturing the German V-2 rocket technology and hardware after the war was the greatest technical victory of World War II. Because the rocket design center and production facility were in areas the Soviet Union intended to occupy under the conditions of the Yalta Conference, the Soviets thought they had the upper hand. But Von Braun and his rocket team thought the United States offered the best opportunity to continue their dream of space travel. So Von Braun and his team ignored Hitler’s orders to destroy all V-2 information and instead moved fourteen tons of V-2 blueprints and documents by truckloads to safety in mountain caves. When the United States arrived, they surrendered themselves and the documents. Von Braun and his team was considered one of the great technological prizes of the war as well as one of the greatest scientific and engineering “brain pools” ever assembled. “Each of the conquerors will want our knowledge. The question we must answer is: to what country shall we entrust our heritage?” Wernher Von Braun
- The Russians were furious when they arrived to a gutted facility. As a “token of friendship” the United States sent the Soviet Union a trainload of hardware from the region. The Soviets were even more furious to discover it consisted of more than a hundred rail cars of nothing but old, rusted farm machinery. This would have a profound impact on United States and Soviet Union relations for over 50 years. “This is absolutely intolerable. We defeated the Nazi armies; we occupied Berlin and Peenemunde – but the Americans got the rocket engineers. What could be more revolting and inexcusable? How and why was this allowed to happen?”. Joseph Stalin
- Stalin was determined to acquire advanced rocket technology at any cost. Some German officials, who Stalin felt might have V-2 knowledge, were invited to a Soviet summit. While they were there Soviet Secret Police and Red Army soldiers raided their homes and rounded up family members. They sealed off entire cities, including East Berlin looking for anyone who could help with technology. They kidnapped more than 6,000 German technical specialists and about 20,000 members of their families. They were put on trains and shipped to various research centers throughout the Soviet Union. Many of them would never see their homeland again.
- Much to the surprise of the United States, in August 1957 Khrushchev announced to the world that the Soviet Union had successfully launched a giant rocket capable of carrying a payload more than 4,000 miles. Named R-7, it was the world’s first intercontinental ballistic missile. “The U.S. is the hotbed for the greatest technology the world has ever seen…..We give the Soviets too much credit. They are basically a backward nation with limited technical capabilities….Why should we fear a people that can’t even build a decent tractor?” Charles Wilson, U.S. Secretary of Defense, 1956
- Russia’s Sputnik I, the world’s first artificial satellite, was launched on October 4, 1957.
This put the United States and the world on notice that if they could launch a satellite, they could also place a nuclear warhead into orbit.
- On January 31,1958 the United States entered the Space Race when Explorer I became America’s first satellite.
- On March 17, 1958 the Americans launched Vanguard I which was the first solar powered satellite. They lost communication with it in 1964 and it is the oldest man made satellite still in orbit. It is estimated it will stop orbiting in 2198.
- The Soviets were the first to have a spacecraft escape the Earth’s gravitational pull. To the embarrassment once again of the United States, the Russian Luna III spacecraft would be the first to impact the moon and photograph its far side in October 1959.
- President John F. Kennedy accelerated the space program. “I’m tired of America being second in space.” President John F. Kennedy.
- The Apollo Gallery included space suits, lunar lander, lunar rover and the ill-fated Apollo XIII Command Module Odyssey.
- In 1972 President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Brezhnev opened the doors for a joint manned mission in space.
- Shuttle Program and International Space Station facts were also displayed.
We really enjoyed this museum and would highly recommend it to anyone visiting the area.
Next stop: On the hunt for Marshal Dillon in Dodge City, Kansas