Touring the Baikonur Cosmodrome * Day V

Posted by on Jun 2, 2013 in Uncategorized

This is the big day. Tonight we’ll get to see the Soyuz rocket launch at 2:30 AM. But there’s enough time for more cool stuff before that. In the morning we visit the launch pad and check out the rocket already in position and getting ready for launch. Once again getting this close to an actual rocket feels unreal.

Next we visit the Baikonur Cosmodrome Museum and get to go inside an actual Buran vehicle which is pretty cool.

The memorial houses of Korolev and Gagarin follow. It’s humbling to see the conditions in which people who achieved so much lived and worked.

Next we visit the Baikonur Cosmodrome Museum. There’s more cool stuff, including a display of Romania’s only astronaut who was kindly (but costly) lifted into orbit by the USSR in 1981.

It’s all good but the only thing that’s on my mind now is the launch. We return to the hotel for a nerve-wracking wait until nightfall. The evening’s schedule starts with another event: we attend the astronauts’ pre-flight report before they hop on the bus towards the launch pad. I don’t get good pictures as the report is over quickly, but I catch a glimpse of the astronauts all-suited up and realize it’s finally happening: in a few short hours these three people will be on board the ISS.

It gets dark. A couple of hours spent at the Baikonur museum and an encounter with a freakishly big spider later, we drive to an observation point for the launch.

I get a really good spot with nothing obstructing the view. We’re only 800 meters away from the rocket which is incredible. People in the know mention that US launches are viewed from 10km away, so 800 meters is unbelievable.

While waiting for the launch I get busy setting up my camera in position complete with tripod, remote and borrowed telephoto lens. Everything is set so that I only need the remote to take cool pictures, allowing me to enjoy the show.

In the time that passes I spot two meteors and one (faint) satellite which look like a warm-up routine before the main event. Skies are much darker than what I’m used to and are filled with countless stars. After a while the arms supporting the rocket open up like a flower’s petals. Helpful ESA guys in our group answer my amateurish questions. It all sets the mood for the launch.

Suddenly and without warning it begins. I’ve seen many pictures and videos before, but a live launch is indescribable. There’s a huge initial burst of light and the pad fills with smoke. The night sky lights up like daylight under an orange sun and a rumbling sound builds up very fast.

I snap a couple of pictures by remote, but then forget about the camera, the pictures and everything else and just enjoy the show (you can check out a video shot by a member of our group available here). The rocket lifts off slowly at first and there’s a huge flame behind it that continues to light up the sky. It’s a very unique experience and I feel an intense emotion that I have never felt before.

The rocket continues to go up and it becomes smaller and smaller as acceleration increases. At some point there’s a brief flash and the first stage is ejected. After some more time the rocket turns into a star moving fast in the night sky. And then it disappears completely. My God that was great.

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