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Construction Begins on Kansas' Spaceflight Gallery

When the Mollett Early Spaceflight Gallery opens to the public in the spring of 2005, visitors to the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center will have a rare opportunity to view the spacecraft and spacesuits that began the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The Cosmosphere, located in Hutchinson, Kansas, announced recently that $750,000 in private donations had allowed construction to begin on the new gallery. Two-thirds of the needed funds were gifted by local residents Clarence and Mary Jane Mollett, for whom the new gallery is named.

The Mollett's also arranged a $1.5 million deferred gift to the Cosmosphere's Foundation and the combined amount of $2 million represents one of the largest gifts in the history of the museum.

"As long-time supporters of the museum, Mary Jane and I have never been more impressed with all the activity and future plans for the Cosmosphere," said Mr. Mollett.

The 4,000 square foot gallery will bring some of the Cosmosphere's most important artifacts to the museum floor. It will include historical archives from both the American and Soviet programs, including the spacesuits used during the Mercury and Gemini, and Vostok and Voskhod programs. The gallery will feature the flown Gemini X spacecraft, a flown Russian Vostok, a full-scale engineering model of the Voskhod, and will be the final home of Gus Grissom's Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft after the completion of its national tour in 2005.

"When Liberty Bell 7 returns, the Cosmosphere will be one of only three locations in the world to have a flown Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo spacecraft," said President and CEO Jeff Ollenburger.

"From an exhibit standpoint, this is an important project for us that, in many ways, will be the anchor gallery for the entire museum. By focusing on the incredible early days of human space exploration, we can see the starting point for everything that is happening in space today."

Fundraising for the Mollett Early Spaceflight Gallery will continue through the completion of the project in spring 2005, and a list of all donors giving $1,000 or more will be permanently displayed at the gallery's entrance.

To date, major corporate contributions have also been made by American Packaging, TSW Products Co., First National Bank, Fee Insurance, Kwik Shop, Inc., and Pipeline Testing Consortium, all from Hutchinson, and Cessna Foundation in Wichita.

"A project of this size takes a tremendous amount of support" said Ollenburger, "and we are very pleased that so many of our long-time friends and supporters of the Cosmosphere from both Hutchinson and the surrounding area have helped make this project a reality."

This article first appeared on and is published here with permission of its author. Further updates about the Cosmosphere's Mollett Early Spaceflight Gallery will be posted here.

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Robert Z. Pearlman
Robert Z. Pearlman

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.