Kazakhstan has begun promoting the visit of Baikonur space station in Kazakhstan – the place from which the world’s first cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was sent into space during the era of the now defunct Soviet Union.
Not everyone is born to be a cosmonaut, but everyone can now get a bit closer to the stars by visiting the largest cosmodrome in the world. These “Space Gates” are located in Kazakhstan. In fact, the first rocket in the world was launched from Baikonur. But also the first artificial earth satellite; then, in 1961, the first spaceship with the first man on board took off from here.
For decades, this territory was kept as a secret strategic site. Today, it is possible to visit it as a tourist. Baikonur designates the space station complex including a “cosmodrome” as well as the nearby city.
As a rule, all Baikonur tours to the cosmodrome are generally timed to coincide with rocket launches. After this, a further tour programme is developed in accordance with the vistor’s preferences: a simple tour around the cosmodrome or an enhanced tour that includes observing a spaceship being moved out of the assembly and test building centre.
The Cosmodrome is a huge research and testing centre. It includes five operational launching sites for rockets; 13 assembly-and-test buildings with 34 technical sets for pre-launch preparation of carrier rockets, space vehicles and upper-stage rockets ; the information and monitoring centre for the operational activities of spaceships and rockets.
The timetable for spaceships launchings is freely available and tour facilitators arranged for tourist groups in advance accodring to the planning. Annually, there are more than twenty rocket launches. They include satellites, cargo for the Kazakhstan International Space Station (ISS) as well as scientific missions with cosmonauts and astronauts. However, most of the launches are on an irrgular basis and it is wise to consult the calendar of planned launches. For example, in 2018 there were only four launches with dates approved in advance and in 2019 they were only three of them during the entire year.
Two-month advance booking necessary
The main part of the tour consists of observing a rocket launch. The radius of the safe observation zone at the “Gagarin’s Start” launching platform No 1 is 1.4 km. Launch platform No 81 is for heavy-lift rockets called “Proton” – its safe observation zone starts from 3 km, although, as eyewitnesses say, the launch of “Proton” causes much more roar and creates fantastic photographic shots.
A must-visit highlight is the Baikonur Space Museum. The museum consists of three parts: a spacious two-level building, an outdoor exhibition, and two houses of historic heritage where Sergey Korolev, the Soviet chief rocket builder, and Yuri Gagarin lived.
Among the original objects on display are the uniform of a Colonel Yuri Gagarin, the original “Soyuz” spaceship’s capsule, a cosmonaut’s barber chair, and all items taken in the spaceship such as food, clothes or spacesuit. It is also possible to sit inside a rocket.
The nearby town was built for the purpose of space research from 1955. It offers many attractions related to the space conquest with monuments and museums. Authorities in Kazakhstan recommend to book tours long in advance for a three-day stay, as conditions to visit Baikonur remain strict.
It is essential to contact the Baikonur travel agency which is licensed for commercial tours. Special passes have to be issued. The deadline for applications from Kazakhstan and CIS citizens ends 25 days prior to the start of the tour. For citizens from other countries, the deadline is fixed 50 days prior to the start of the tour.