If you’ve never heard of Baikonur, Kazakhstan, you’re definitely not the only one. However back in the 60s, it was the IT place for space exploration as it was the first launchpad for Yuri Gagarin, the first astronaut to go into space. Located in an area in the South of Kazakhstan, Baikonur Cosmodrome, as it has become known, is the the first and largest operational space launch facility in the world with numerous commercial, military, and scientific missions being launched annually.
Built in mid 1950s, it was the place that sent Yuri Gagarin (the astronaut or cosmonaut as he is known in Russia) to the space in the Soviet Union’s Vostok spacecraft from Baikonur in 1961. The place itself is filled with space exploration history, as many historic flights have lifted off from Baikonur:
- the first operational ICBM
- the first man-made satellite, Sputnik 1, on October 4, 1957
- Laika, the first dog in space on Sputnik 2, on November 3, 1957
- the first spacecraft to travel close to the Moon, Luna 1, on January 2, 1959
- the first manned and orbital flight by Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961
- the flight of the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, in 1963
- 14 cosmonauts of 13 other nations, such as Czechoslovakia, East Germany, India and France, started their journeys from here as well under the Interkosmos program
- Baikonur is also the site where Venera 9 and Mars 3 were launched from
So while you may have not heard about it until now, it is a place of mystery and adventure and most importantly a place where you can still experience launches if you go at the right time. Before we delve into the 3-day itinerary we have prepared for you, we have the schedule of the upcoming preliminary launches, just in case you’re looking to catch one on your trip there.
Soyuz МС-12: March 14, 2019
Soyuz МС-13: July 6, 2019
Soyuz МС-15: September 25, 2019
While there is no visa requirement to visit Kazakhstan for US, Canada, Australia, European Union citizens, as well as more than 60 other countries (Full list here), a special permit must be obtained in order to visit the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which needs to be submitted at least 45 days before the actual trip. Thankfully, the permit is usually included in most trip packages so all you need to worry about is booking the trip in advance so you can catch one of the launches.
Visiting the Cosmodrome is only allowed as part of an organized tour so we reached out to ACT Kazakhstan, the largest tour operator in Kazakhstan, with a stellar reputation and with exclusive access to certain expeditions.
The first day is all about relaxation and enjoying the city. Baikonur is a small place, however it is filled with monuments, space-related statues and even an old rocket. Take your time relaxing and walking around as Day 2 will be a busy day.
This day is one for the books. It starts with breakfast at the hotel before heading to the site to observe the report of the space crew to the State Commission and then visit the Integration and test facility complex (subject to Roscosmos permit), the Space museum, the “Buran” Orbital complex, and the cottages of famous spacemen like Sergei Korolev and Yuri Gagarin, where the first conqueror of space spent the last night before the flight.
The tour continues with a visit of the command post of the launch vehicle “Energia” followed by an observation of the launch of the spacecraft “Soyuz”, then moving on to the “Gagarin’s start” complex (subject to Roscosmos permit) before returning to the hotel.
Breakfast at the hotel followed by a bus tour of the city. During the tour you will have the opportunity to visit various squares, monuments, the Soyuz rocket carrier.
As part of the tour, you will have a few things included to make the trip runs smoothly and you get to experience one of the most interesting places on this planet.
- Permission of ROSCOSMOS
- Admission to the facilities of the Baikonur Spaceport
- Twin accommodation in Baikonur for 2 nights
- Transport service in the territory of Baikonur
- Excursions and tour guide service according to the program
- Meals: Breakfast and Lunch in Days 2-3, Dinner in Days 1-2
- Permission for photo and video taking