Friday, Feb. 15 2013 9:01AM
LS man dreams of space museum
By Russ Pulley
Vince Lawrence, of Lee’s Summit, is pulling his model of the space shuttle Atlantis out of storage to show if off in Branson.
That’s no small job, given that the one-half scale is the size of a tractor trailer. He’s been storing it in a shed near Douglas and Chipman roads.
He has lofty dreams, as high as the moon, for the exhibit. He envisions a space museum in Branson, housing a collection of space artifacts and memorabilia.
Lawrence, who bought the model from a Tennessee museum in 2007, had planned to use it as space education attraction in the Kansas City area at schools or at Science City in Union Station.
He said it could make money, when there are large crowds, at air shows or downtown festivals. But he couldn’t find a market for the other days between such events.
“We could never find enough venues to string together to make it work,” Lawrence said. So the venture struggled, financially. He offered the model for sale at auction offering to use the money to send students into space on Virgin Galactic, a space tourism venture by Richard Branson, who has also founded a record label, an airline and cell phone company. No takers.
Now Lawrence leased a spot on the strip at Branson, Mo where he’ll be putting it on exhibit. He hopes to sell enough $7 tickets to the eight million annual visitors to that tourist town to launch his museum.
He said he’ll open March 1.
Lawrence said the one-half scale model cost $1 million to build. It had been in use several years when he purchased it. He has since remodeled it since, fresh paint, installed new seat cushions, and added television monitors for an updated show.
It has an inflatable tail fin that extends above its three engines (which are equipped with smoke machines to simulate exhaust) that can be deflated and wings which fold up, so it can be hauled on highways.
Inside there is a bank of 50 computer monitors, seats and a sound system for the nine-minute program that will play for people inside.
In its heyday it was on the History and Discovery channels.
The model used to offer an hour-long simulation which was “very interactive” but with its aging computers breaking down, he’s retired that program.
The model will be on exhibit, along with an authentic Gemini “boilerplate” space capsule. That steel relic was produced for the U.S. Navy, the same shape and weight as a real capsule, but with no equipment inside. It was used to practice to be ready to recover real space craft and astronauts after missions, Lawrence said.
Another part of his space collection that will be on exhibit is a moon globe signed by Apollo astronauts, the most notable being Buzz Aldrin. Lawrence said he became interested in space when he was a boy. His father worked on rockets for the space program, he said, and he started building models.
Later, Lawrence said, he started a non-profit to take space education into schools. He said he’d put on demonstrations, like dropping golf balls into flour to make craters, share photographs and model rockets.
He’s had a few other jobs along the way, but has focused on the shuttle exhibit since 2006, he said.
“This is what God put into my heart to do,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence lives in the Lakewood subdivision and attends the Crown Pointe Assembly church. He intends to come home to Lee’s Summit on weekends.
He quotes Jim Irwin, commander of Apollo 15, who became a preacher after the space program, who said, “Jesus walking on Earth was more important than man walking on the moon.” Lawrence said he had met Irwin and became friends, and also uses the exhibit also as a venue for witnessing about his Christian faith.
He calls the attraction Atlantis the Last Mission, and has a website where there’s more information: http://atlantisdreammission.
He said he has faith to continue regardless of the early difficulties.
“What people need to do, if they have a dream is never quit,” Lawrence said, “No matter how long it takes.”