Connect with Space: Journey to Baikonur

Adventure

A journey to Baikonur Cosmodrome will always remain in your memory.

Not everyone is born to be a cosmonaut, but everyone can become a bit closer to the stars by visiting the largest cosmodrome in the world. These “Space Gates” are located in Kazakhstan! The first rocket in the world had been launched from this exact spot, as well as the first artificial earth satellite and in 1961 a spaceship with the first man to go to space onboard. You may have already understood that we are talking about Baikonur. For decades this territory had been a secret strategic site. Today, it is possible to visit it as a tourist.

Baikonur – is a complex that includes a cosmodrome and a city with the same name. There is absolutely something to look at in both of these places. But, as a rule, all Baikonur tours to the cosmodrome are often timed to coincide with the spaceships’ launches. After that a further tour program is developed in accordance with tourists’ preferences: a simple tour around the cosmodrome or an enhanced tour that includes observing a spaceship being moved out of the assembly-and-test building. After that, you can have a walk around the city and chat with local people.

The timetable of cargo and manned spaceships launchings is freely available and tour facilitators arrange tourist groups in advance. Annually, there are more than twenty rocket launches to set into orbit items such as satellites, cargo for the Kazakhstan International Space Station (ISS) and cosmonauts and astronauts. However, most of the launches do not set off on exact dates. For example, in 2018 there were only four launches with dates approved in advance and in 2019 there are three of them.

Reference: Baikonur Cosmodrome is the first and the largest cosmodrome in the world and is located on the territory of Kazakhstan in Kyzylorda region between Kazalinsk town and Jusaly village, close by Turatam village. The total square of Baikonur is equal to 6,717 sq.km. Both cosmodrome and the city with the same name make up “Baikonur” complex taken on lease by Russia from Kazakhstan until 2050 (source: www.roscosmos.ru)

Space Launching Platform

Obviously, the main part of the tour is observing a rocket launching. The radius of the safe observation zone at the “Gagarin’s Start” launching platform No 1 is 1.4 km. there is good visibility from that launching platform. Launching platform No 81 is for heavy-lift rockets called “Proton” – its safe observation zone starts from 3 km, although, as eyewitnesses say, the launch of “Proton” causes much more roar and creates a fantastic visual appeal than the launch of smaller rockets at the launching platform No 1. After you have felt a surge of adrenaline and burst of joy, or sorrow, that you are still on the earth, the theoretical part of your tour will start.

Obviously, the main part of the tour is observing a rocket launching. The radius of the safe observation zone at the “Gagarin’s Start” launching platform No 1 is 1.4 km. there is good visibility from that launching platform. Launching platform No 81 is for heavy-lift rockets called “Proton” – its safe observation zone starts from 3 km, although, as eyewitnesses say, the launch of “Proton” causes much more roar and creates a fantastic visual appeal than the launch of smaller rockets at the launching platform No 1. After you have felt a surge of adrenaline and burst of joy, or sorrow, that you are still on the earth, the theoretical part of your tour will start.

Reference: Baikonur – Cosmodrome is a powerful research and testing center, which includes:

● 5 operational launching sites for carrier rockets;

● 13 assembly-and-test buildings with 34 technical sets for pre-launch preparation of carrier rockets, space vehicles and upper-stage rockets and so on;

● Measuring complex with modern computers and an information center for monitoring of carrier rockets’ and upper-stage rockets’ flights, for the operation of spacecraft and for data processing;

● two aerodromes “Krainii” and “Yubileinyi” and many more (source: www.roscosmos.ru).

Normally, on the next day after the rocket launch Kazakhstan, you can see its launching platform. “Gagarin’s Start” is a truly historical place! From this very point, on 12 April 1961, the world’s first launch of “Vostok” spaceship took place with Yuri Gagarin on board as a pilot. Before that, on 4 October 1957, the first artificial earth satellite had also been launched from that point as well.

After “Gagarin’s Start” you can visit the second most significant launching platform of the cosmodrome – platform No 31, which is the Kazakhstan space launch facility for the “Zenit” carrier rocket. Additionally, you can visit (Baikonur) other launch platforms that are, mainly for the heaviest rockets such as “Proton”. These rockets are capable to place cargos weighing up to 22 tons into earth orbit (i.e. to the International Space Station, which is 200-300 km away from the earth) and cargos of up to 6 tons into geostationary orbit (i.e. the orbit of artificial earth satellites usually is about 36 thousand kilometers from the Earth), as well as on Mars and Venus. “Proton” rockets were used during the construction of the “Mir” space station (a Soviet-Russian space station that existed between 1986 and 2001) and the currently existing Baikonur International Space Station. Now “Protons” deliver various cargos to the ISS.

Further on, you may visit a historical project “Energia-Buran” (where ‘Buran’ means ‘blizzard’ or ‘snowstorm’). It was planned that the “Energia-Buran” spaceship should be used for delivery of cargo into the earth’s orbit, entirely automatically using autopilot. However, after its first and the only successful flight, the spaceship has never gotten into the air. Its assembly-and-test building is located at the platform No 112. As a result of the collapse of the roof, all items in the building were completely destroyed: the one and only spaceship “Buran” that flew into outer space Baikonur, separate parts of the “Energia” carrier rocket and its demonstration model. Now tourists can observe this site only from the outside. If you see huge rusted transporters for rockets there, these can give you a hint of the true size of the carriers and the spaceship.

A must-visit point is a Space Museum. The museum consists of three parts: a spacious 2-level building, an outdoor exhibition, two houses of the historical heritage where Sergey Korolev, the Soviet chief rocket builder, and Yuri Gagarin, the first cosmonaut in the world, lived.

The museum keeps a remote control that initiates the launch of carrier rockets and is located in a blockhouse of the operations office of the Kazakhstan space launch facility. This is the exact remote control that started the launch of the first artificial earth satellite and the first spaceship in the world with a man onboard. And the value of the exhibition is an authentic uniform of a Colonel Yuri Gagarin. Also, the museum exposes “Soyuz” spaceship’s capsule, a cosmonaut’s barber chair, and items of a cosmonauts’ household like, for example, food, clothes, spacesuit and many more. The outdoor exhibition amazes with the dimensions of the rocket engines. Tourists are allowed to get on board the “Buran” space shuttle and even to sit at the pilot’s seat!

A Space City

The town of Baikonur “lives” solely in line with the space; therefore, all sightseeings are related to the history of rocket building and exploration of the near-earth space. There are a lot of monuments in the city established in the honor of famous scientists and space explorers as well as many green parks named after great people of their time. In the park after Grigoriy Shubnikov (a project manager of Baikonur Cosmodrome’s construction) you will find an architectural composition “Science-Space”: a woman in one hand holds the Earth’s sphere and in another hand – a rocket pointed up to the sky. In the city, there is also a square to mark the 25th anniversary of space exploration where you will see a mock-up of the “Soyuz” carrier rocket in its actual size. On the same avenue not far from the square there is a monument to Yuri Gagarin. Additionally, a street that cosmonauts drive along when entering the city from the airport is also named after Yuri Gagarin. The Museum of History is also one of the city’s attractions. It is smaller than the museum at the cosmodrome but, undoubtedly, is worth looking at. The museum also includes four rooms and an exhibition gallery located on the second floor of the Palace of Culture. Today the exhibition has got 15 thousand expositions.

Reference: The town of Baikonur started being built simultaneously with the most important sites of the polygon in 1955; initially it was a village for explorers. Its development master plan reminds of the plans of other major military towns of that time. The location of residential houses, cultural facilities, sports zones, and medical zones was marked as “area No 10”. The Administrative center of the cosmodrome, Baikonur, had undergone several changes in its name: Zarya village, Zvezdograd (right before the arrival of the General Charles de Gaulle), Leninskiy village, the town of Leninsk and now, starting from 1995, official name is Baikonur (source: www.roscosmos.ru)

How to Get to Baikonur

A standard tour around Baikonur lasts for three days. In order to become its participant you will need to approach the Baikonur travel agency that has obtained a license from Roscosmos; more specifically, from the Centre for Ground-based Space Infrastructure Operations – a government-owned corporation that manages the cosmodrome. Issuing special passes takes a long time. Deadline for applications from Kazakhstan and CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States, which was formed following the dissolution of the Soviet Union) citizens ends 25 days prior to the start of the tour; for citizens from other countries – 50 days prior to the start of the tour. That’s why you should plan your travel to “interplanetary gates” well in advance! The rest, as people say, is mere formality. When your pass is ready, you can discuss the details with the travel agency. Accommodation, meals, excursions are, normally, included in the cost of the tour. But bear in mind that travel agencies might offer some optional service. And, believe us, your journey to Baikonur will be remembered forever.

"Baikonur" Cosmodrome
"Baikonur" Cosmodrome

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