• This replica of a Gemini capsule will replace the Liberty Bell 7 at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center while it is on loan to a museum in Germany.

  • Larry Burns, from Pickering, Ohio, takes pictures of the Liberty Bell 7 as it leaves the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center on Wednesday bound for a German museum.

  • Mike Baker, of Belger Cartage Service, and Dale Capps, SpaceWorks employee, guide the Liberty Bell 7 onto a trailer Wednesday at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center.

Cosmosphere launches Liberty Bell 7 on overseas mission

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Liberty Bell 7 flew again on Wednesday, even though it barely reached five feet above street level at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center.

A crane from Belger Cartage lifted the Mercury space capsule out of a 15-foot-deep freight well at the southeast corner of the Cosmosphere and gently set it back down on a trailer for the first leg of its journey to Germany, where it will be on loan for an exhibit titled "Outer Space: The Space Between Art and Science," in Bonn.

"We're extremely excited to be partnered with the museum in Bonn," said Cosmosphere President and Chief Operating Office Jim Remar. "There is a lot of interest in space exploration in Europe, especially related to the historical side. For us to share with Europe, especially in light of our announcement yesterday, will help increase our international presence."

The Cosmosphere on Tuesday announced a five-year, $15 million campaign to revitalize the Cosmosphere and increase its international reputation, with more interactive exhibits and a stronger emphasis on including STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education components.

Lifting Liberty Bell 7 out of a portal to the Cosmosphere's basement on Tuesday took about 15 minutes, the same duration as astronaut Gus Grissom's suborbital flight aboard the capsule in 1961.

From the Cosmosphere, Liberty Bell 7 was taken to the museum's SpaceWorks division on Whiteside Street. SpaceWorks technicians will refurbish its display case with better lighting and a positive pressure component to help protect the capsule from the environment.

Liberty Bell 7 will then be crated up and placed on a truck for the Port of Houston on July 30. There it will be placed aboard a ship for the ocean journey to Germany. From a German port, it will be trucked to the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn. It is expected to arrive there on Aug. 29. SpaceWorks personnel will meet the Liberty Bell 7 to unpack it and prepare it for display in Bonn from Oct. 3 through Feb. 22.

After that show, Remar said it will take about a month for Liberty Bell 7, one of the Cosmosphere's most valuable artifacts, to get back to Hutchinson. He expects that it will be back on display at the Cosmosphere sometime before Memorial Day 2015.

In the meantime, visitors will still be able to get a sense of what a Mercury space capsule was like. On Wednesday Belger Cartage also lowered a replica of the Friendship 7 Mercury capsule down into the basement.

Remar said the Germans asked for the Liberty Bell 7 because they fell in love with the story of its loss, recovery from the bottom of the ocean and restoration.

After it splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean in 1961, the explosive hatch release went off and the capsule began taking on water, prompting Grissom to scramble out into a life raft. The rescue helicopter was unable to lift the capsule because the water had doubled its weight, and the pilot had to disconnect the lift cable when alarms started going off in the helicopter.

The capsule sank 13,000 feet to the bottom of the ocean, where it remained for 38 years until it was recovered by an expedition financed by the Discovery Channel in 1999. SpaceWorks then spent the next six months restoring the spacecraft for a national tour. It has been at home in the Cosmosphere since September 2006.