Five Days At The Russian Cosmodrome Baikonur For A Manned Space Launch Day One. My afternoon flight from Almaty touched down at the Kyzylorda domestic airport. I had landed in Kyzylorda, a city founded in the early 19th century, located in southern central Kazakhstan. Kyzylorda as you might guess, is not a hotbed of tourism. Why was I here?
I had traveled here to watch a manned spaceship launch and fly to the International Space Station. Talk about bucket list.
Kyzylorda is one of the launching points (no pun intended) for Baikonur Cosmodrome. The Baikonur Cosmodrome is the main space port for launching both manned and unmanned rockets to space. Kyzylorda is located is an uneventful three hour drive to Baikonur. Others opt to fly from Moscow to Kyzylorda, and then make the drive. The benefit of skipping Russia is avoiding acquiring a Russian visa (expensive and onerous to get). Kazakhstan is visa free for many nationalities.
Baikonur Cosmodrome is rich in history and in firsts. It is the first and largest operational space port in the world. Baikonur launched Sputnik 1, the first satellite, in 1957; the first dog in space also in 1957; the first human spaceflight on Vostok 1 in 1961; and the first woman in space in 1963.
Baikonur Cosmodrome began construction in the late 1950s while Kazakhstan was still part of the Soviet Union. The Cosmodrome is a giant ellipse measuring 90 kilometers (56 mi) east–west by 85 kilometers (53 mi) north–south. Today, it is the home of multiple space launches, both manned and unmanned missions; including, commercial, scientific and military. Baikonur was chosen for several reasons, close to the equator (easier to launch rockets), away from populated areas, and located in a flat area so radio signals are not interrupted.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, Kazakhstan gained its independence, resulting in Russia’s space base being located within its neighbor’s borders. Russia negotiated a lease until 2050, providing access to Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Baikonur serves as a unique symbol or Russian-American partnership. While Russian-American relations are at a new low since the end of the Cold War, Baikonur acts as a strange symbol of cooperation. The US Space Shuttle program ended in 2011 leaving no American options for manned spacecraft to reach the ISS, the International Space Station. The manned satellite is owned and operated by the Americans, Russians, Europeans, Canadians, and Japanese. The Americans are now dependent on the Russians to bring astronauts to the ISS. But the Russians are providing no discounts for passengers, each American astronaut’s ride sets the US back $81 million. So until Elon Musk perfects his rockets, the US will have to pony up some more cash to the Russians.
I landed in the afternoon in Kyzylorda after spending several days exploring Almaty. I befriended a local family at the airport who brought me to my hotel, the number one ranked hotel, Sultan Plaza hotel. I had a couple of hours to explore the town before sunset, so I dropped off my bags and began my solo walking tour.
While three hours away from Baikonur, the town acknowledged its space connections around town. This was a good introduction to wet my whistle.
It was then off to bed early, since I was meeting my tour group at the Kyzylorda Airport to depart to the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Five Days At The Russian Cosmodrome Baikonur For A Manned Space Launch Day One. (And yes, it isn’t technically five days, since the first day takes place in Kyzylorda.)