Touring the Baikonur Cosmodrome * Day II

Posted by on Jun 2, 2013 in Uncategorized

After a good night’s sleep in the centrally-located Hotel Tsentralnaya it’s time for some interesting stuff. Our second day starts with a visit to the Museum of Baikonur History which sounds as exciting as a trip to the mall until you get there and see how cool it is.

The museum is well kept and there’s a local guide that speaks English. And there’s a ton of cool stuff (well, probably more than a ton looking at the size of these engines): rocket engines, rocket and probe parts that actually flew into space and fell back to Earth, rocket and probe models and mockups, space gear, a model of the ISS, space food, space suits, space everything.

My camera starts taking pictures and it never stops. Here’s a model of the N1-L3 heavy lift rocket next to a model of the once-secret Energia-Buran; there on the wall is a picture of a Soyuz rocket actually signed by dozens of astronauts and cosmonauts before leaving for space; in one corner there’s a model of Venera 9 – the first lander to return pictures from another planet in 1975 (Venus), while one room is dedicated to the more modern Soyuz rocket which we’ll see launched in a few days – yes, we get to see an actual launch!

The guide explains the basics, but it gets better. A team of about 15 cool people from the European Space Agency (basically real-life rocket scientists) are part of our group and are here for the tour and the launch as well. Whatever question you have, they can answer; it can’t get any better than this. The tourists in our group are composed of myself and three more persons from the US and Australia; there are some Russian tourists as well but the language barrier prevents meaningful communication.

After the museum we drive around town for some of the main sights. The local Orthodox Church is nice but nothing new if you come from Romania.

But there’s a lot more. While most places will have statues of long-forgotten historical figures together with their trusty horses as a monument, Baikonur gets to display real rockets. How cool is that?

A real Soyuz which had been used for testing is mounted on display in a local park. This thing is huge, slightly worn-out and beyond awesome; they’ve even kept the CCCP initials on it.

And it just keeps getting better and better. We then stop by a 15A15 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), affectionately called the SS-17 Spanker by NATO, painted in bright green and displayed in another park. Many pictures were taken that day.

In Baikonur there’s something interesting wherever you go. The day continues with a trip to the International Space School where high-schoolers (mostly from former USSR countries) train to work in the space program. I’d have loved to study there: the world’s top model rocket expert teaches here and students get to build model rockets and airplanes that actually fly. What more could you possibly want in high-school?

Everything is nice, clean and shiny. There’s once again a ton of space parts, engines, models and assorted cool stuff, with a guide providing explanations (and the cool ESA people answering questions).

It’s not just show and tell at the Space School. There’s an actual space capsule on display and I get to enter it, which is a great experience. It’s small and cramped inside, and it helps with appreciation for what actual astronauts have to go through.

I can’t imagine living in there for too long before claustrophobia kicks in, but the minutes I spend inside are precious. The school tour ends with model rockets blasting off outside, which is a nice little bonus.

On our way back to the hotel the group stops by a huge cargo plane mounted on display in front of some apartment buildings. After we get dropped off I go to find more monuments together with a cool fellow space enthusiast from the US. We check out the one dedicated to the Proton rocket that’s full of funky and colorful Soviet-style space art.

More weird food follows as do more attempts to use the internet (which would eventually be successful). But who the hell needs food or the internet when you’ve been inside a real-life space capsule and touched rocket engines and stuff that’s actually been to space? I could survive on bread alone and still be thrilled by everything Baikonur has to offer. And this was just the beginning.

Keep reading about Baikonur: Day I | Day II | Day III | Day IV | Day V | Day VI