today I'm proposing an article written by Alexander Kagalnitskiy who spent some days in the Baikonur cosmodrome during the last take-off of Soyuz to the International Space Station and which share to us these feelings about this great event, enjoy:
This past May 2013, I had the unique opportunity to participate in the 6-day tour to the Baikonur space center to witness a manned space rocket launch. The unusual part about it was the fact that I went there as a tour leader from the tour company where I work – “Country of Tourism LTD”. We had a rare chance to provide travel services for a large group of tourists from all over the world! Since this was my first time actually going to Baikonur, I was a bit worried at first, as I was responsible for the entire group. The worry however, went away completely when I realized how united and passionate everyone was.
The city of Baikonur is fairly small. It only houses around 70000 people, but that doesn’t affect the population’s friendliness, or the fact that the entire city somehow plays a role in the space industry. One might find it a bit disturbing, or unsettling, however I find it amusing and somehow romantic, that on the background or the Soviet era buildings, and monuments dated back to the 1950’s, the most advanced modern science is being put to work. Walking down the city streets, you will hardly notice the fact that only a few kilometers away, they develop, build, service and launch real rockets into space! On a first glance, one might consider Baikonur one of the desert towns, abandoned by progress, where the time has stopped ticking many years ago. It’s like the entire city is frozen in the Soviet time, and is feeling quite comfortable there. When you look closer though, you start to realize that this is not at all true. Progress has not stopped, and the time is still flowing. Nevertheless, this is a very unique and interesting place!
Every corner is filled with a monument, landmark of some sort, or a real rocket just sitting on a stand on an empty square. One of the original Soyuz rockets is pretty much free for anyone to climb on! Where else will you see that? They have statues of the first space heroes, starting with Korolev and Gagarin, and continuing with the ground layers of the city. You cannot afford to forget your camera when leaving your hotel for a walk! You are guaranteed to see something new and interesting everywhere you go!
As a tour leader, I had the chance to work with some amazing people, organizing the excursions for my group. The organizational process was quite difficult, but very doable with the help of my local colleagues. Every day we had to face a new unexpected issue, but considering how many people were in the group, we resolved every single one of them smoothly, and at the end, everyone was happy with their experience. Being one of the organizers, that is the highest reward I could get!
It’s funny, but when you ask the locals how they feel about the whole space thing, most of them just shrug. I guess when you’ve been living next door to something all your life, at some point you just stop bothering about it. The cosmodrome exists right outside the city, and the people exist inside. And that seems to be the extent to which the majority of locals are interested or concerned. Of course, they love tourists, because they bring money into the small city, but on the other hand, it seems they would have been just fine without all the commotion… It truly is an amazing contrast.
Locals aside, the tour was amazing! Being one of the organizers, I had the inside information on everything, which made it a lot more predictable, but for the rest of the group, every new day was an adventure. We did not disclose the detailed itinerary right away, in order to sustain that pleasure of conquering the unknown. Turns out we made the right choice! When the group found out that we’re taking them to the press conference with the astronauts, they went ballistic! Not many dared to even dream of such an honor! When we went to see the rollout of the rocket, everyone appreciated how close we stood to the train tracks, which was only a couple of meters away! On the day of the launch we went to the actual Launchpad, where the rocket proudly stood, awaiting her astronauts and getting all fueled-up for the flight. At that point we were also allowed to stand as close as about 20 meters from it! As far as I know, that’s unheard of in tourism world. All those little things made for a huge impression. When everything was said and done, I couldn't help to smile, as I saw all the happy and excited faces!
All-in-all, I recommend everyone interested in space, or technology, or history to attend a rocket launch in Baikonur! You will see it all, from the landmark-filled city and the full of artifacts museums, to the in-depth interactive displays of the rocket technology and the real perks, such as the press conference, the rocket rollout, and of course, the launch! Our company “Country of Tourism LTD” has been organizing these tours for many years, and now that I actually took part in one of them, I can say with full assurance, that this is the absolute best experience for a true space fanatic! Nowhere else in the world you will see and do the things you see and do with this tour!
©2013 Alexander Kagalnitskiy, “Country of Tourism LTD” firstname.lastname@example.org