Situated in the steppes of Kyzylorda Province, Kazakhstan, 240 km west of the city of Kyzylorda, near the Tyuratam railway station, Baikonur is, probably, the world’s most famous spacecraft launch site (cosmodrome).
Present-day Baikonur comprises a huge spaceport and a cosy city with a population of over 70 thousand people, both leased to Russia until 2050.
The history of the city and cosmodrome began in 1955, when the USSR government decided to use the site for the construction of a training area to test intercontinental ballistic missiles. For secrecy reasons and in order to disorientate a probable enemy Baikonur was given different names at different periods of time – Tashkent-90, Zarya village, Zevezdograd village, Leninsk city and others. Since December 1995 the site has borne its present name Baikonur. Weapon testing went hand in hand with the testing of different types of non-military spacecraft. In 1957 the first artificial satellite was launched, and on 12 April 1961 the site became a starting ground for the first manned space flight Vostok piloted by Yuri Gagarin. By now, over 1,500 spacecraft, satellites and interplanetary probes, including orbital space stations Salyut and Mir, have been launched from the spaceport. Moreover, Baikonur has become a testing ground for all the 38 basic types of rockets and over 80 types of space machines, to say nothing of their modifications.
Since 2008 the Baikonur cosmodrome has never been used for military purposes, and its function now is only to launch international manned space flights Soyuz and cargo spaceships Proton.
With a special permit tourists may visit Baikonur to observe the start of launch vehicles (see our company’s Baikonur tour).
Places of interest in Baikonur
The most interesting object is the museum of the city’s history with a big collection of 15,000 items illustrating how the city and cosmodrome were constructed.
Other attractions include squares, monuments and busts of Academicians S. Korolev and M. Yangel, the founders of the city and spacecraft designers, chief constructor G. Shubnikov and Marshal M. Nedelin, an original monument to Yuri Gagarin, life-size models of launch vehicles Soyuz and SS 17 (a prototype of the famous Satan ballistic rocket), memorials to pilots who died during test flights, Baikonur Arbat pedestrian street with a square and a monument to Lenin, the St. George the Victorious Orthodox Church, the Zero Gravity stela and Cosmonauts Alley.
Gagarin’s Start (Site No. 1) where spacecraft Soyuz have been launched, the Energiya assembly and testing complex, the museum of cosmonautics (Baikonur cosmodrome) with unique exhibits, among which are the personal things of the first astronaut Yuri Gagarin, the first Earth satellite, the descent modules of spacecraft Soyuz, the modules of Belka and Strelka, the first canine cosmonauts, astronauts’ space suits, models of all launch vehicles, an original control panel used in the first manned space flight, a lunar globe and many other things. Within the museum complex are two cottages, in which S. Korolev and Yu. Gagarin lived when the first human flew into space. Right there you also have a chance of getting into the cockpit of space shuttle Buran.