Science & Technology

Baikonur, the Kazakh cornerstone of the Russian space program, turns 65

By Fernando Salcines

Moscow, Jul 28 (efe-epa).- “Baikonur is the world’s first cosmodrome, that says it all,” cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin said in an interview with Efe after opening a show dedicated to the 65th anniversary of Russia’s main cosmoport.

For all those years, the launch complex located in the Kazakh Steppe has been the cornerstone of the Russian space program, from where more than 300 space explorers and thousands of rockets carrying spacecraft and satellites have taken off.

“No other spaceport has made as many launches. Not even close. The most diverse rocket modifications have been launched,” said Yurchijin at the VDNH “Space and Aviation” pavilion, the largest exhibition venue in Moscow.

The 61-year-old cosmonaut, who flew into space five times, recalled that “from the Baikonur launch pad ‘Gagarin’, the first to function, 500 carrier rockets were launched, although it was designed for only 50 launches.”

This mythical pad, from which Yuri Gagarin, the first man to fly into space, took off in 1961, has overcome the passage of time and is currently undergoing renovations to take on new challenges, “because life does not stop,” added Yurchikhin.

“That is why we are hopeful that Baikonur will not become a museum and remain the cosmodrome of planet Earth,” he smiled.

THERE WAS ONLY ONE STEPPE

The construction of the first ramp of the cosmodrome took just over two years.

“On January 12, 1955 the first builders arrived. By May 15, 1957, the first carrier rocket was launched. The work was done very quickly and with quality,” he said.

On July 28, 1955, the first group of specialized rocket engineers arrived at the space complex in northern Kazakhstan, from where the first artificial satellite was launched in record time in 1957 and in 1961 the first manned flight with Gagarin.

The Baikonur cosmodrome has since been gradually expanded and today doubles the territory of the Russian capital, Moscow, covering an area of 6,717 square kilometers (2,600 square miles)

Baikonur’s origins date back to the Cold War era. It is said that in the mid-1950s the Soviet Union created a fake cosmodrome near the town of the same name, thus managing to hide the true location of the facilities until 1957.

After the flight of Yuri Gagarin, he stated that the launch ramp of his ship, the Vostok, was in Baikonur, from which time this name began to be used.

From Baikonur, which currently has five active shuttles for nine types of carrier rockets, more than 5,000 launches have been made.

From its ramps departed the Russian orbital station Mir, modules of the International Space Station and about 120 cosmonauts and two hundred astronauts from other countries.

“All the others (cosmodromes) were built on the experience of Baikonur, and not only because of its achievements, but also because of the mistakes,” Yurchikhin said.

WITHIN THIRTY YEARS

The space base initially belonged to the Soviet Union, but after the disintegration of the USSR in 1991 it was suddenly on Kazakhstan’s territory, so Russia signed a lease with the Central Asian nation in 1994 until 2004, an agreement that was extended until 2050.

Russia pays Kazakhstan $115 million a year for using the space launch complex, which employs 10,000 people, including technicians, engineers and service personnel.

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