Baikonur, the cosmodrome of recordsand the town. Kazakhstan
You will surely have heard this name when our compatriot Samantha Cristoforetti (the first time in Italy) has launched into space right from Baikonur cosmodrome. Living in Almaty, the remote town of Baykonur is very far away and I have never visited it; but I have often imagined the life of the 36,000 inhabitants residing there, still of Russian and Kazakh citizenship.
Founded in 1955 as an intercontinental missile base, this place forbidden to the most, saw the first man sent into space in 1961, the eternal Yuri Gagarin; in addition to the first satellite (sputnik) and Laika, the first dog to orbit; and it is still the place where space missions are carried out also open to other nations that have such a program; as for the European Space Agency.
This cosmodrome is lost in the Kazakh steppes and is about 200 km East from Lake Aral and is still today in Russian territory. At the time of the USSR’s break-up, the Russian federal government “rented” the entire area; for its obvious historical, strategic and political importance. In 2005 the agreement between the two nations was renewed until 2050; for the modest annual figure of $ 115 million; which in my opinion is also valid as compensation for Soviet nuclear tests held in Kazakh territory.
The town of Baikonur
Going to Turkistan, I met an engineer who works right in Baikonur on the return train at the first day of the year. With his partner, still drunk from the New Year’s Eve, he told me: “There’s nothing in Baikonur! No places where to have a little fun!” I could not force him to say anything more about the city; perhaps because even drunk remained bound by professional secrecy?
From what I read, it seems that Baikonur is a slow-declining town. As the journalist E. Kramer writes on the NYT: “The nomads of the neighboring steppes are occupying the abandoned buildings.” It then describes how the population that was about 30 years ago of two thirds Russian and a third Kazakh has now become the opposite. Of course, the territory and the jurisdiction remains Russian; but the residents have done nothing but follow the example of the other compatriots in Central Asia, preferring to return to the Motherland.
Still in the article we read that the first cell phone appeared in 2004. I would say perfectly understandable in line with the times; given that in the 1990s Russia had to face an epochal economic crisis, as for the whole Central Asian area.
Baikonur will therefore not be a city of beauty equal to Rome; but this is certainly not what visitors are looking for; if anything, the thrill of seeing a space launch. The Yuri Gagarin cottage is now part of the City Museum, where photos and reports of astronauts can be found; togethere with historical artifacts of the cosmodrome, such as that of the first aerospace vehicle of the Burane program.
For those who dream of visiting the Cosmodrome, special tours of three days are organized, about three times a year, coinciding with space launches. The foreigner, in addition to witnessing the uniqueness of the event, can visit the internal museum and the Orbital Buran Complex; all at the modest sum of about $ 4,000.
For further information about Astana, click here.