The Space Capsule That Crashed in Oklahoma

As places go, it’s hard to be less notable than Winganon, Oklahoma. It’s an unincorporated community in Rogers County and if you go to check its Wikipedia entry, you’ll find that it doesn’t have one. (Okay, it didn’t until I wrote this.) It’s about 45 minutes from Tulsa, so it’s not in the middle of nowhere, despite the screenshot from Google Maps below. But more importantly, it’s about nine-hour drive almost due north from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas — and that matters because of that little grey thing off the side of the road.

We’re going to need a better picture of… whatever that is. Good news! There’s one below.

That, via Amusing Planet (which has even more pictures), appears to be a space capsule. It’s roughly the same shape of what you’d expect an astronaut to use, it’s silver, it has an American flag and the words “United States” and “NASA” on it, and there’s something at the bottom which looks space-ish, too. But again, it’s a day’s drive from Houston and, well, obviously not in space. How the heck did it get on the side of the road in rural Oklahoma — and why hasn’t it been moved?

To start, it’s not a space capsule. It just looks like one.

In the late 1950s, at what may be the height of America’s foray into the great beyond, officials in the Rogers County area was more concerned with lakes than they were with space. Bordering Rogers and Nowata Counties is Oologah Lake, a long body of water which made it difficult for traffic in the area. So they did the obvious: they built a bridge. In 1959, a cement mixer was on its way down East 300 Road — that’s the route seen above — but didn’t make it to the construction site. It tumbled off onto the side of the road and needed to be towed away. But by the time the tow truck arrived, the liquid cement in the mixer hardened, making it impossible for the tow truck to remove that part. So they just left it there. At that point, it became a problem that no one cared to fix. So the cement mixer remained on that spot for years to come.

Fast forward half a century and someone decided to do something about this huge piece of industrial litter. In 2011, as Atlas Obscura explains, a pair of local artists — a married couple named Barry and Heather Thomas — noticed that the cement mixer was roughly the same shape as a space capsule. A few coats of paint, some creative stenciling, and crash site from more than 50 years earlier turned into something out of this world. It’s remained there since, with some touch-up work along the way.

Today, the cement mixer space capsule is a point of local pride — and serves as a nice surprise to passersby on an otherwise nondescript drive through Oklahoma. As the story behind its origin is nowhere to be found near this accidental monument, they’re left to wonder what they have just discovered.

Bonus fact: If you’re sleeping on a memory foam mattress, you can thank NASA’s anti-crash efforts for that. As the agency explains, “memory foam, also known as temper foam, was developed under a NASA contract in the 1970s that set out to improve seat cushioning and crash protection for airline pilots and passengers.”

From the Archives: E.T.? No Going Home: Why the astronauts who landed on the Moon had to spend some extra time in a space capsule back on Earth.