One of Kazakhstan’s most well-known locations is being revamped, in an attempt to put it on the tourism map of what is the Caspian region’s second-largest country.
The name ‘Baikonur’ conjures up images of the Soviet era, when the USSR was launching rockets and cosmonauts into space during the Cold War from a city that was at the time called Leninsk, or Zvezdograd. The city’s famed cosmodrome was the world’s first and largest operational space launch facility, from which were launched many ‘firsts’: the first man-made satellite, the first operational intercontinental ballistic missile, the first manned and orbital flight by Yuri Gagarin in 1961, and the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, in 1963.
Today an area in the shape of an ellipse, measuring 90 km (56 mi) from east to west and 85 km (53 mi) from north to south, with the famed cosmodrome situated in the area’s center, is rented by Russia and managed by the Roscosmos State Corporation and the Russian Aerospace Forces.
Situated in the desert steppes of south-western Kazakhstan, Baikonur today is much more than a space-inspired locale. Kazakhstan’s central government is implementing what it describes as a long-term development program over the next seven years to develop tourism infrastructure, according to Xabar 24.
Russia seems to be on board with the idea of making the famed space town a tourist hub. In December, Kazakhstan’s First Deputy Prime Minister Askar Mamin and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin of Russia met in Moscow to agree to the plan for strengthening the city’s tourism potential. The two serve as co-chairmen of the Kazakh-Russian Intergovernmental Commission on the Baikonur Complex.
Baikonur is expected to see new hotels, observation platforms and safe routes to the cosmodrome come online as a result of the commission’s efforts. The Baikonur Museum, the Museum of Baikonur Cosmodrome History, the Buran space plane – similar to the American space shuttle, memorials to famous Soviet astronauts and rocket launches are all within the vicinity.
The Museum of Baikonur Cosmodrome History contains recreations of space stations and satellites, scientific equipment, and daily items used by cosmonauts when in outer space. Tours detailing the city’s history and the cosmodrome’s construction are given, as well as explanation of how cosmonauts prepare for flights and how space vehicles are launched into space.
Russia has carried out 470 launch missions at Baikonur since the 1990s, and will lease the cosmodrome from Kazakhstan until 2050. Both countries are currently working on projects including launching an eco-friendly rocket that will use kerosene and oxygen as its fuel source, rather than toxic substances.