Five Days At The Russian Cosmodrome Baikonur For A Manned Space Launch Day Four. Today was going to be a bit low key compared to the previous, action-packed, day. I crammed down some sort of egg creation for breakfast and met the group for our 10:00 am departure in Lenin Square. The day was sunny and even a bit warm. We were to spend the day visiting the Cosmodrome and visiting multiple sites.
We exited the town of Baikonur and proceeded to the checkpoint at the Cosmodrome. The Cosmodrome is a vast area of area 700 square kilometers. Scattered throughout this area are multiple launch pads, hangars, airports, offices, hotels, museums, railway, chemical plants, and measurement point installations. Incredible feats of technology take place within the space port, yet first looks can be a bit deceiving. Many buildings and structures are a better fit for an Urbex’s wet dream than my image of a high-tech mecca. So many buildings were in disrepair, abandoned, or destroyed. I had a slight feeling of déjà vu, recalling my visit to Chernobyl, an abandoned town of 30 plus years in Ukraine after a nuclear mishap. While we had free reign as visitors in the town of Baikonur, that rule was not reciprocated in the Baikonur Cosmodrome. We were accompanied by our guides following an itinerary.
Our first stop was a measurement point installation, some old and some new. Two abandoned, hulking satellite dishes reached skywards interspersed with empty buildings and discarded vehicles. A newer facility with updated equipment had been constructed on the site. A Russian security guard looking cross and wagging her finger exited the facility yelling at me to stop taking photos. I smiled and ignored her commands. Our guides had informed us we had access to take photos at this site. A relic of the Soviet Union could be spied here, a red Soviet star. The equipment here was used to monitor and communicated with spacecraft.
The Baikonur Cosmodrome has a mix of manned and unmanned missions. And our next visit was to a Proton launch pad. The Proton is a powerful rocket for unmanned launches. The first Proton was launched in 1965 and is still in use today. Over the last 50 years, this workhorse has over 400 launches under its belt including military, commercial, and scientific payloads. But due to a number of issues from politics, challengers, and poor mismanagement, the Proton is facing obsolescence, with only one foreign commercial launch scheduled in 2018.
Our group milled around the area, as many proletariats scurried about seemingly very busy. We were welcomed by the chief of the pad, who provided us with an overview. This was one of the few places we were not allowed to take photos. It was an immense area.
Next, we made a couple of photo pit stops to take in the scenery.
Our final stop within the Cosmodrome was the command control center for the fueling of the Energy-Buran, a heavy-lift rocket. The rocket was propelled by two different fuels, kerosene and liquid hydrogen. Within the innards of the building was a museum housing old equipment.
Our group was split in two with Russian and English speakers. We were guided by Ksenia but sometimes stringers were brought in like yesterday like Edward. While today, we were accompanied by Amina on the bus as we toured the Cosmodrome. Amina was a young Kazakh woman who was born in Baikonur and also worked at the same museum in town with Edward. Throughout the day, we noted that Amina was growing more flabbergasted. She was getting inundated by a series of questions, some quite serious and others of a joking nature, but Amina was having a difficulty deciphering the difference. A towering German in our group, named Zunker, asked a series of never ending questions centering around nitrogen fuel. By the end of the day her eyes had glazed over. I hope Amina was going to be able to get a good sleep since we were going to see her the next day for a tour of another museum.
In the museum, I noted a three person film crew mingling about with some of the other visitors and occasionally turning on the lights and doing a brief interview. This crew was from TV Roscosmos, which is part of Russian Federal Space Agency. They have been broadcasting all things Russian space since 2005.
A moment later I was placed in front of the camera where I gave an overview of my experience as an American tourist viewing a Russian space launch. I made the final cut, and my interview (with Russian dubbing) is mixed within this compilation of MS-08’s launch. (I show up at the 1:47 mark)
Mid-afternoon we departed the Cosmodrome and returned to the town of Baikonur. And of course, you know where I ate dinner, Zvezdnoye Nebo restaurant. Yes, I know. I am boring. Hello, grilled chicken with vegetables.
Five Days At The Russian Cosmodrome Baikonur For A Manned Space Launch Day Four.