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I'm slowly working on the Atomic City 1/12 kit as the Liberty Bell as it is displayed in its case at the Cosmosphere. I'm a member there and this Friday afternoon I've got a meeting with the COO and at least one person (I don't know who yet) who helped with the restoration. Is there anything specific you guys would like to know about the restoration, Liberty Bell specifically or Mercury capsules in general that I can ask for you?


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Such a generous offer David ... thanx!

I've always been curious about the exterior panels, Rene 41 (?) ... would the restorers know about the 'grooves' in the panels? Were they aerodynamic or just to add strength to the panels?

Would they have photos of the supporting structure? Without any panels attached?

And any sequential photos showing the build up from bare structure (what colour is it, Chromate or just the bare Aluminum or Titanium?) to any electronix or equipment bays, to any insulation, to the panels (or is it shingles?) and finally paint.

Discussion always ensues regarding the EXACT colour used on the exterior panels ... was is a paint colour, or the bare Rene 41 material itself, was it Black or Bluish ...

I hope you get a tour of the Liberty Bell in addition to the face to face meeting. To this day, I'm astounded at how small this spacecraft was and the, for lack of a better word, courage, of these early astronauts ... simply ... incredible!

Thanx again David!


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I've always been curious about the exterior panels, Rene 41 (?) ... would the restorers know about the 'grooves' in the panels? Were they aerodynamic or just to add strength to the panels?

Would they have photos of the supporting structure? Without any panels attached?

I believe the 'grooves' are corrugations to help manage the thermal expansion of the panels.

I have the book "Lost Spacecraft" by Curt Newport. It covers the genesis of the Mercury program, the loss, search, recovery and restoration of Liberty Bell 7. The book has many photos including photos of the Mercury capsules in the McDonnell white room showing the capsules before the exterior panels were installed. Additionally there is a CD which includes detailed structural drawings of the Mercury capsules.

Highly recommended.

I visited the Cosmosphere this fall and took several photos of the restored capsule.

Edited by habu2
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Today I got to meet with Jim Remar, the president of the Cosmosphere, to talk about the Liberty Bell. We chatted some about what I was doing and he was able to answer a lot of questions regarding the capsule and Mercury capsules in general.

Here are some shots I found on the internet of Greg "Buck" Buckingham, the lead restorer on the project, with the capsule showing the pressure vessel without exterior panels. Pretty good shots showing the struts:





Jim said prior to the shuttle, NASA didn't have in mind longevity...that craft and suits were made to be used once. They've been having a hard time especially with the suits to keep them from falling apart. The Mercury capsules were built with quite a few different materials, not all of which were compatible (more on that later). The interior part was constructed from titanium, aluminum, and stainless steel which wasn't painted. The exterior panels are made of Inconel, which was not painted either. Based on my picture and observations it is a dark charcoal. I don't see any sort of blue to it, but it is definitely lighter than black:


During the restoration when they took the exterior panels off there was still insulation remaining. What pieces they were able to salvage and preserve went back into the craft when it was reassembled. Not everything that came off was able to go back on, due to the deterioration of the connection points. Especially behind the instrument panel. When the dissimilar materials sat in the salt water the reaction that took place turned LB7 into a battery, and that is where the corrosion came from. It turned out to be a blessing though, as when the pieces corroded it encased itself from further deterioration.

The only documentation they used were the NASA SEDR manuals. That pretty well boggled my mind that was all they used. They didn't have any line drawings or blueprints. Jim checked with their collections person and was able to track down the restoration photos for me to look through. He told her he had a researcher in. I'm not just a model builder, but a researcher! Looking through those was pretty amazing and brought up some more questions. They did the restoration in the actual museum part in full view of the public to watch. There were lots of pictures of the technicians working; on the couch, on the instrument panel, of Buck taking pictures of the pieces.

Some of the pictures that popped out were the dye canister, which was still releasing dye after 30 years on the sea floor; a picture of the explosive hatch igniter (there was no conclusive proof to support if Gus hit it or if it prematurely blew); and a serial number to a parachute, which turns out was the main recovery chute still attached to the capsule with its straps still intact. The heat shield had deteriorated away, but the debris field was evident from it.

Every little piece of gunk or corrosion that was cleaned off the capsule was kept, and they put it all in one container when they were done...a 55 gallon trash can!

All in all it was a very informative sit down, and I thank the Cosmosphere for allowing me to look through a tiny portion of their archives.

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BTW, Curt Newport wrote a book about Liberty Bell 7 (available from Apogee I believe) and it provides a lot of documentation of Curt's original sleuthing to find the capsule, the flight of LB7, development of Project Mercury and some of the restoration work. Its a worthwhile read IMHO.

It was the beryllium heatsink shield that actually did most of the preservation work as it corroded. In video of the recovery, you can see it sitting off to the side of the capsule in a big lump of silvery metallic slime. If LB7 had the ablative heat shield of the orbital capsules, I doubt it would have survived as intact as it did. The reason why the heat sink wasn't used for the orbital capsules is because even though it would have preserved the capsule during reentry, the heat generated still would have likely cooked the astronaut inside like a roast. But, it worked fine for the sub-orbital flights where the heat loads generated weren't as high and they weren't for as long (because the capsule didn't have to scrub off as much speed coming home).

I actually met Buck once before he died (I believe it was a stroke, it was very sudden and saddening when it did happen as he was the heart and soul of the restoration team). I was visiting the Cosmosphere many years ago (1996 I believe) not long after they got CM Odyssey (the Apollo 13 Command Module) and were in the process of putting the interior bits from storage into it. Odyssey was basically gutted after its flight as the Apollo 13 accident investigation looked over everything it could while they investigated the cause of the explosion and they were never re-installed before the capsule was "exhiled" to a museum display in France. Buck was in the restoration bay they had built (normally, the restorations were done off site, but they wanted this one worked on in full view) and I waved at him while he was inside. He came out and we chatted for a little bit before I let him go back to work as I asked him some questions about the hardware I was seeing (the couches and the entry hatch and a bin with A LOT of screws and fasteners). He was a very gentle guy and quiet, but I got the sense he really loved his craft and he was very good at what he did. Looking at that beard of his, one would never have known he was one of the best spacecraft restoration guys in the country.

Edited by Jay Chladek
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