Baikonur Cosmodrome

Baikonur cosmodrome is a large complex of rocket launch pads and other supporting infrastructure and it is the first and the largest space center in the world. It was originally constructed during the Soviet Union but is located in the current Kazakhstan. The spaceport is located in the desert steppe of Baikonur, about 200 km east of the Aral Sea and north of the river Syr Darya and it includes a vast area of 6717 square km. 

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian obtained much of the Soviet space program but there was an issue that the Baikonur launch facility was on the territory of the newly independent state of Kazakhstan. The solution agreed in 1994, was that Russia would rent the entire Baikonur facility from Kazakhstan, including the same named town that supports the cosmodrome. In 2005, Russia and Kazakhstan approved an agreement extending the agreement until 2050 and that the size of the rent is 115 million US dollars. Following the completion of the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East in 2017, some launches will gradually be relocated there from Baikonur. 

Baikonur memorial statue
Buran shuttle model in Baikonur

Baikonur birth & current features

Baikonur cosmodrome was established in 1957, when the first development works were completed and the first launch of an R-7 rocket took place. Throughout the following 30 years, Baikonur cosmodrome developed and new launch pads for new rocket types, tool rooms for rocket construction, fuel stations, other complexes for rocket control and tracking and other important infrastructure were established. 

Today, there are several launch pads, a huge aerodrome called Yubileyniy, a museum of cosmonautics, assembly and the test facilities and control centers. The primary object of the Baikonur cosmodrome is the launchpad No.1, called Gagarin’s Start. The first rocket, later the first man-made Earth spacecraft and of course the first manned launch with astronaut Yuriy Gagarin, were launched there and is therefore named after him. The launchpad has now sent more than 600 rockets to space. Launchpad No.31 is the second most essential one at the Baikonur cosmodrome. It replaces Gagarin’s Start and is usually used for sending cargo ships. Like Gagarin’s Start, the safety area for the launchpad 31 is also 1,4 km. 

Baikonur city

Baikonur is not only a cosmodrome but also a city built in the Kazakh steppe with the population of more than seventy thousand but many of them have nothing to do with space or rockets. While rockets are being launched nearby, the town of Baikonur resembles footage from a post-apocalyptic movie. It seems that time stopped here somewhere in the 60s when Gagarin flew into space and the town was then left there, surrounded by a concrete fence. As the territory of the entire Baikonur complex and the city, are both leased by Russia, the head of its administration is appointed by a joint declared by the presidents of the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan.  

Yuri Gagarin house in Baikonur
Baikonur city

The town has two police, two registry offices, two courts and brothers living in the same apartment might be citizens of different states. Prices in the town are dominantly in rubles and though it is allowed to pay in Kazakh tenge, expect to get the change in rubles. The Russian MTS mobile-phone network is dominant in the town and the vehicle registration plates are mostly Russian as well. 

The Baikonur town is considered to be an administrative unit of the Russian Federation with a special status, which only three other cities, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Sevastopol also have. It is also not surprising that the stone Vladimir Lenin still stands in the central square, whose monuments you will meet traveling across Central Asia. The rent will expire in 2050, and what will happen with the complex is unknown.

Travel to Baikonur

You can get the Baikonur only through checkpoints with local registration, by obtaining an official permission from the Russian authorities, or through a hole in the fence (which we do not recommend). The last method is actively used by camels though. They enter through holes in the fence from the territory of Kazakhstan and freely walk along the central streets of this once a very secret city. The easiest way to enter Baikonur, is to obtain the pass from the travel agencies specializing in taking tourists to the complex. 

What baikonur offers, with a significant price though, is one of the few chances to see live a rocket soaring to the space from only a relatively close distance away. Otherwise the town offers a lot of locations interesting for space enthusiasts like the houses where Yuri Gagarin has stayed and the museum of Baikonur cosmodrome history. There are also many other interesting sights like the Soviet Buran shuttle, but it is not officially open to the public.

Bed of Yuri Gagarin in Baikonur
Inside a hall in Baikonur

Sights & Destinations near Baikonur

Page updated 21.12.2022

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