Five Days At The Russian Cosmodrome Baikonur For A Manned Space Launch Day Three. I awoke to darkness, and today was going to be an exciting and busy day. I gobbled down a quick breakfast of eggs and tea at the hotel, and the group was on the bus before 6:30 am. We entered the Cosmodrome after a brief security check. We headed to the Hanger at Pad 112, where the Soyuz rocket is assembled. The Soyuz spacecraft is launched on the Soyuz rocket, which has been in use since the early 1960s. And in two days, this rocket will be bringing three men to the International Space Station. The rocket is brought via train to Site No 1, better known as today, as Gagarin’s Start, which is the launch pad for Soyuz rockets. In darkness, the rocket protruded out of the Hanger, slowly oozing out on a train bed. Workers and security forces supervised the rocket’s slow journey. Two hundred something space tourists thronged the area snapping photos.
I was somewhat flabbergasted (in a good way) at how few tourists had made this unique bucket-list trip. The level of access the tourists received was impressive and intimate. I was quite confident that there was no equivalent trip during the time of manned space launches at NASA. I had some incredible experiences over my three days at Baikonur Cosmodrome.
The rocket receded in the distance with the first early colors of the sun peeking out over the horizon escorted by a security car with its blue siren flashing.
The collective of tourists proceeded back to their vehicles and drove to a juncture of road and train tracks, half-way between the Hangar and Gagarin’s Start. It was a bit chilly as waited for the rocket to appear on its way to the launch pad. A grey mist hung over a series of buildings on the horizon.
And security kept an eye on the throng.
We were greeted with a tremendous sunrise directly behind Gagarin’s Start. It looked like a scene from a film.
Eventually, we noted the train in the distance, crawling over the tracks. Methodically it made its way to the juncture, and proceeded on its final journey to the launch pad.
And it slowly made its way to the juncture.
Back to the buses and we headed over to Gagarin’s Start to watch the installation of the rocket ship. The rocket arrived in a horizontal fashion and slowly was hoisted into a vertical position as throngs of workers surrounded the Soyuz rocket.
Site No. 1 oozed history. So many firsts took place here. The world’s first satellite, the first man sent to space, and the first woman sent to space. This site has witnessed over 500 launches.
The rocket slowly and methodically climbed to its vertical position. The orange/red sunrise had transitioned into a flat white sun. The Soyuz rocket reached its vertical position, the crowds thinned and we were onto our next visit within the Cosmodrome.
Within the Cosmodrome is the Baikonur Cosmodrome Museum, a well-designed and informative museum. We were met by our museum guide, Olga, who was both passionate and informative. She shared with us the highlights of the two story museum.
Our group was in Baikonur to witness the launch MS-08, a manned launch bringing three men to the ISS. Oleg Artemyev, Andrew Feustel, and Richard Arnold were the three man team (one Russian and two Americans) that would be launched on the Soyuz on March 21. This was the 55th expedition to the ISS. All three astronauts has traveled to space previously.
They will spend two days in the capsule chasing the ISS and finally docking 400 km above earth. The crew of MS-08 will meet the three current astronauts already stationed on the ISS. The three astronauts of MS-08 (and their two backups) arrive in Baikonur two weeks prior to their mission. Of course, part of that is training and preparing for the launch, and some of the time is spent fulfilling tradition.
The astronauts had visited the museum where we saw traces of their visit, including their signatures, pictures, a spacesuit, and the very cool mission patch honoring their mission. Check out the museum’s gift shop for some unique mementos.
Outside of the museum were a number of rockets and ships, notably a refurbished Buran Space Shuttle. The Buran, meaning blizzard, was a reusable spacecraft very similar to the US space shuttle. Buran’s one and only launch was in 1988. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Buran program withered away. But at the museum, you get the opportunity to take some selfies in the cockpit.
Adjacent to the museum was a walk down memory lane. The historical cottages of both Yuri Gagarin (first man in space) and Sergei Korolev (father of the Soviet space program) dating back to the 1950s and kept in its original state. Yes, you can see the actual toilet.
The tour of the Cosmodrome had ended, and we would return to the town of Baikonur for a city tour. It was a bit of a repeat of my impromptu tour from the day before in addition to a couple of other highlights. Our tour guide for the city tour was Misha, a guide who worked at the museum in town. Misha was a bit disheveled and he looked like he was a guy down on his luck. I felt like I wanted to help him get a date. I was about to sign him up for Tinder, but didn’t know if that was a big thing in Baikonur. But that would have to wait since the tour was beginning.
The day had ended, and it was late afternoon. Somewhat famished I had either a very late lunch or early dinner at my favorite restaurant in combination of catching up on my email.
Five Days At The Russian Cosmodrome Baikonur For A Manned Space Launch Day Three