Space Foundation News

Cosmosphere Loans Soviet-Era Artifacts

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The Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center is loaning a collection of 1970s-era Soviet space artifacts to the Space Foundation for exhibit at its world headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., as part of the initial public exhibition for the Space Foundation's soon-to-be-opened visitors center. The loaned artifacts will go on limited public display Aug.1.

The loaned items include:

  • One of the few Lunokhod lunar rovers ever to be displayed outside of the former Soviet Union
  • A half-scale model, constructed in the Soviet Union, of the Luna 16 Robotic Probe, the first robotic probe to land on the Moon and return a sample of lunar soil to Earth
  • A prototype of a Sokol (Falcon) Space Suit-K, a pressure suit that was used for on-ground engineering and thermal vacuum tests during cosmonaut training

The artifacts will be on display in the Space Foundation world headquarters at 4425 Arrowswest Drive, where they will be displayed for three years.

"Initially, we will place these three extraordinary artifacts, which the Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center has so generously loaned to us, in our extended lobby area," said Space Foundation CEO Elliot Pulham. "Then, we'll move them into the El Pomar Space Gallery, as part of the first phase of development of our visitors center.

"We're particularly excited because these artifacts represent a rich part of space history that few Americans have been exposed to," he continued. "We are very pleased to be able to display some of the meaningful contributions the Soviet Union made to space exploration."

The Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center is a museum and educational facility in Hutchinson, Kan., that displays and restores spaceflight artifacts and offers educational programs and camps. It is one of only three museums to display flown spacecraft from Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, and it has the second-largest collection of flown Soviet and U.S. space artifacts in the world. In addition to being a destination, the Cosmosphere also sponsors traveling exhibits and loans artifacts to other museums and organizations. For more information, go to

"These artifacts on display in our booth at the National Space Symposium are exemplary of the unique and inspiring collection accumulated during our 50-year history and housed at the Kansas Cosmosphere," said Richard Hollowell, interim president & CEO of the Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center. "We are excited to continue our mission of honoring the past and inspiring the future of space exploration by sharing these fascinating artifacts with visitors to the Space Foundation through an annually renewable three-year loan agreement.

The Space Foundation, which moved into spacious new headquarters in July 2011, has been actively collecting artifacts and fundraising for a visitors center, which will open in phases over the next several years. Plans for the visitors center include a Science On a Sphere®, a teaching auditorium, a Space Technology Hall of Fame® and displays of space artifacts and models. While not initially open to the public except for private visits and tours, the visitors center will eventually become a Colorado Springs tourist destination. Our initial opening is Aug. 1.

To see photos of the artifacts, go to

About the Lunokhod
The Lunokhod was part of the Luna program, a bold series of experiments launched after the Soviet Union lost the race to put a man on the Moon. The program sent nine unmanned remote-controlled robot spacecraft into lunar orbit and to the surface of the Moon. Two of the spacecraft that successfully landed on the Moon - Luna 17 and Luna 21 - carried Lunokhod rovers, which, remote-controlled from Earth, explored the lunar surface and sent back large amounts of scientific information and photographs.

Launched aboard Luna 17 in November 1970, Lunokhod 1 landed on the Sea of Rains and explored the lunar surface for nearly a year. Lunokhod 2 was carried to the Le Monier Crater in the Sea of Serenity by Luna 21 in January 1973 and explored four times the territory in only half the time of its predecessor.

The Lunokhod is formed of a tub-like compartment with a large convex lid on eight independently powered wheels. Approximately the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, the Lunokhod is equipped with antennas, television cameras, extendable devices to impact the lunar soil for density measurements and mechanical property tests, an X-ray spectrometer, an X-ray telescope, a cosmic ray detector and a laser device. The vehicle was powered by batteries that could be recharged during the lunar day by a solar cell array mounted on the underside of the lid. During the lunar nights, the lid could be closed so that an internal heat source could keep the internal components at operating temperature.The Lunokhod that will be displayed at the Space Foundation was built by the Russian company that constructed the retired Lunokhods that still rest on the surface of the Moon.

About Luna 16 Robotic Probe
Luna 16 was the first lunar sample return mission by the Soviet Union and the third lunar sample return mission overall, following the United States' Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 missions.The unmanned Luna 16 Robotic Probe set down in the Sea of Fertility in September 1970, the first time a spacecraft had landed on the Moon during the gloomy two-week lunar night.Within an hour of landing, a drill onboard the probe collected a sample of lunar soil. Then, mission controllers in Kazakhstan verified the collection and transmitted the order to fire the ascent stage of Luna 16. Three days later, the soil sample was returned to the Earth, marking the first time a sample from another world had been retrieved purely by machine.

The Luna 16 spacecraft consisted of two attached stages, an ascent stage mounted on top of a descent stage. The descent stage was a cylindrical body with four protruding landing legs, fuel tanks, landing radar and a dual descent engine complex and was equipped with a television camera, radiation and temperature monitors, telecommunications equipment and an extendable arm with a drilling rig. The ascent stage was a smaller cylinder with a rounded top that carried a cylindrical hermetically sealed soil sample container inside a re-entry capsule.

About the Sokol Space Suit
Designed in response to the suffocation death in 1971 of three cosmonauts aboard the Soyuz 11 mission to the Soviet Space Station Salyut, the Sokol space suit was first worn by Soviet cosmonauts in 1973. Unlike bulky EVA (spacewalk) suits, the sleek Sokol suit can be worn in the exceptionally tight quarters aboard the Soyuz spacecraft where there is no room for cosmonauts to wear extensive life support equipment.

The official purpose of the Sokol suit is to keep the wearer alive in the event of an accidental depressurization of the spacecraft during the launch or re-entry phases of orbital missions. It is similar to the pumpkin-colored suits later worn by Space Shuttle astronauts. The Sokol suit continues to serve the Russian space agency as its principal onboard rescue suit.

Read about the Space Foundation Collection here.

This article is part of Space Watch: May 2012 (Volume: 11, Issue: 5).