updated 6/17/2005 8:17:15 PM ET 2005-06-18T00:17:15

A new gallery at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center tells the story of early ventures into space from both the American and Russian perspective in side-by-side exhibits.

The 4,000-square-foot Mollett Early Spaceflight Gallery focuses on race to space between the United States and Russia, and includes artifacts from the 1950s and 1960s. One section of the half-million-dollar gallery even includes Soviet spaceflight failures that were hidden for years by the Communists.

"No other museum does an exhibit like this," said Jim Remar, vice president of museum operations. "We have made this, in many ways, the flagship gallery of the Cosmosphere."

Statues of President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev, who were key figures in the Cold War, stand in one section of the gallery near a display of the "Iron Curtain." There's also a reproduction of a concrete bunker where NASA scientists watched the first manned launch into space, complete with a periscope that lets visitors see film of the launches as scientists might have seen them in the early 1960s.

Nearby, a door leads to a view of the museum's 100-foot-tall (30-meter-tall) Titan rocket, which launched NASA's Gemini spacecraft.

"It's really going to be an immersive environment," Remar said. "It allows visitors to get an up close and personal look at the Titan rocket."

He said many artifacts in the new gallery either had been in storage or displayed with limited interpretative signage.

In 2006, the new gallery also will house the Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft after the capsule — which sat for 38 years at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean before being recovered in 1999 — returns from a national tour. The Mercury spacecraft, which carried Gus Grissom on a successful 15-minute suborbital flight in 1961, was restored at the Cosmosphere.

"By focusing on the incredible early days of human space exploration, we see the starting point for everything that is happening in space exploration today," said Jeff Ollenburger, Cosmosphere president.

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