ISS EXP 52 launch (2017) Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan

T-3, 25 July 2017: Hello Kazakhstan

Enter Baikonur the world's first and largest operational space launch facility

The ashes of Yuri Gagarin and four cosmonauts who perished during spaceflight accidents (Soyuz 1 and Soyuz 11) are interred on the Cosmonauts’ Avenue outside the Kremlin Wall in Moscow. Soyuz crews visit this memorial wall and lay red carnations there. Twelve days before their launch (T-12), Exp 52 crew flew to Baikonur, where they stay in relative quarentine at the "Cosmonaut Hotel". Baikonur (formerly Leninsk) is purposely remote, built at the height of the Cold War to be far from prying eyes, and from communities that could suffer fallout from the occasional rocket disaster. Five days before launch (T-5), the crews take part in a flag-raising ceremony outside the Hotel. At this time, the Ambassador kindly delivers my VISA to Melbourne, Roscosmos approves my permit and I leave Australia for Russia with butterflies in my stomach.

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Exp 52 National Flags at "Cosmonaut Hotel"; Nespoli, Ryazansky & Bresnik pay their respects at the Cosmonauts’ Avenue; Krayniy airport Kasakstahn 25 July 2017.

Touchdown at Krayniy airport Kasakstahn

Around midnight T-3, I depart Moscow Domodedovo airport. Join crew family and friends onboard Flight 7R5555. Touchdown at Krayniy airport Kasakstahn. A Roscosmos representative escorts us through the Baikonur check point: a closed, Russian-administered city within Kazakhstan. Check in at “Sputnik” hotel. Have a light breakfast. Transfer to Launch Site Num. 2. of the Baikonur spaceport: the world's first and largest operational space launch facility. Curious and care-free camels greet our coach.

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Camels greet the Country of Space Tourism Group and ROSCOSMOS official escort on route to the Baikonur Cosmodrome Launch Site Num. 2., 25 July 2017.

Cosmonautics Museum Tour, Baikonur Site num.2.

The Baikonur Cosmodrome Museum is located in the area n°2 of the Baikonur cosmodrome: one of the oldest areas near the former assembly factories of the Vostok and Soyuz rockets. The Museum consists of three parts: the main museum, an open-air hardware exposition, and two historical houses, where Sergey Korolev, the main rocket developer of the USSR, and Yuri Gagarin, the first cosmonaut resided. The main building was originally the House of Officers where future cosmonauts, military and rocketry professional spent their free time arranging art evenings, cinema screenings and other cultural events. Over time, artefacts, memorable photos and handcrafts of cosmonauts accumulated in one corner. Gradually, this corner filled an entire room, and overflowed into other rooms, until finally it transformed into a museum. The main exposition hall features two significant figures: Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovskiy, the founder of the theoretical cosmonautics, who in 1903 published the work titled “Exploration of Outer Space by Means of Rocket Devices”, proving an opportunity of a flight to space with the help of a rocket with a jet engine. And, photos, documents, sketches and models of jet engines developed by Sergey Pavlovich Korolev. Following on, the next hall highlights pioneering space flights. I point to the first launched artificial Earth satellite 'Sputnik', models of capsules for spacefaring animals and the very small models of the first manned space launch.

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Sarah Jane pointing to the Sputnik; Ejection seat of Soyuz return vehicle; Ejection seat of the Vostok spacecraft; cabinets dedicated to Sergei Korolev and Valentin Glushko.

Two emotional highlights for me were the cabinets dedicated to Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to fly in space and Russian cosmonaut Alexei (Aleksey) Leonov, the first human to walk in space. Tereshkova’s flight on the Vostok 6 blasted off from Baikonur in May 1963. She orbited the Earth 48 times, photographing the atmosphere and communicating with fellow cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky (who passed her by on the Vostok 5). The flight almost turned into a tragedy because of a mistake in the automatic navigation software. In a feverish haste, Sergey Korolyov, the head of the Soviet space program, together with Yuri Gagarin developed a new landing algorithm. Her capsule landed a bit harder than expected, and there is some mystery surrounding her return profile error, but she had logged more time in space (71 hours) than the combined time of all previous American astronauts till that day. Nonethless, her small dedicated cabinet is pushed in a corner, and unlit, unlike her male counterparts. I found it deeply disrectful and saddening if not offensive but a clear and important reminder, of a time when women were banned from practical astronautics, and of the continued plight of women for equal recognition. “If women can be railroad workers in Russia, why can’t they fly in space?” - Tereshkova.
I was equally moved to see the cabinets containing the first piece of art created in space, and the pencils Alexei Leonov used to draw it. There were also paintbrushes, origami cranes, and portraits of his colleagues made while in space, views of the Earth. To adapt his creative practice to deal with weightlessness, Leonov used a rubber wristband attached to the packet and individual threads to each of the pencils. But more than practical undertaking, the Artist-Cosmonaut's pioneering activities openenly and seemlessly embraced arts and sciences. He showed that these tools are necessary for responding to the vastness of space, wonder, awe and fear.

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Large scale-model of the cosmodrome with a sputnik over it; artefacts of the Artist-Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov (brushes/origami): Baikonur Cosmonautics Museum, 25 July 2017.

The Baikonur Cosmodrome Museum has a hall dedicated to life in space. It includes various models of spacesuits, helmets and other equipment used by cosmonauts. For example, there is an extensive food display revealing edibles in tubes cans and vacuum bags, and a model of the Soyuz return vehicle. The largest museum hall is broadly dedicated to rocket professionals from all fields - from their medals, orders and uniforms, to tools and engines, miniature rockets, satellites, and the first cosmonautics computer; photos and copies of historical documents; and a beautiful large-scale floor model of the Baikonur Cosmodrome including launch pads and tracking stations.

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Baikonur’s first computers; a cabinet filled with cosmonaut food products; the payload bay of Buran layed out in an exhibition room: Baikonur Cosmonautics Museum, 25 July 2017.

The open-air exposition includes a full-size model of the space ship Soyuz, and shuttle "Buran", various rocket engines, launch table, radiolocation antenna and specialized automobile technology that was once used at the cosmodrome. The OK-M was built in Moscow in 1982 to make temperature and mechanics tests. It was transfered to Baïkonour to test the interface with Energia. Normally it would have been used for the first flight of Energia and destroyed during the re-entry in the atmosphere. Buran's cargo compartment now holds a mini-exposition and an accessible cockpit mock-up to compliment the payload bay exhibit in the main building.

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Baikonur Cosmonautics Museum's “Buran OK-M” orbital ship model containing exhibits and cockpit. The dashboard here is fictive and is not the one of Buran.

⇐ Return to Astronautics ⇐ Back to Cosmodrome 2017 ⇐ Next up T-2, 26 July 2017