Baikonur Travel Guide
The first and the largest space center in the world
Jules Verne and Herbert Wells had highlighted the issue of space flights long before the first rocket was launched, but the trigger for space travel was a war, the Cold War between USSR and USA. A nuclear weapon had to be delivered to the enemy at the rocket speed; thus they started tests that demanded testing areas. This is how the history of Baikonur started.
In 1954 authorities of the USSR put a task for scientists and military officers to find a convenient place for testing area construction. Few conditions applied: large underpopulated and non-agricultural region, availability of railway station for delivering cargo and rocket blocks, accessibility of drinking and technical waters, and some others. There were only 3 suitable places found on the territory of the vast country. The steppe region of Kazakhstan at the shores of Syr-Darya, close to the small village Tyuratam, with a railroad Moscow-Tashkent nearby, suited the best for the construction of the cosmodrome.
On 12 January 1955, locals saw how train stopped and many military officers and builders got out of it. Nothing like that happened before. Newly arrived began to build a tent camp. This is how the construction of the first and largest space center in the world began. More about Baikonur History
Weather and climate
Baikonur is located in the steppe, on the shores of the Syr-Darya River. Flora is scarce, though the city of Baikonur itself is rather green. Fauna is represented with different birds of prey, rodents and it is also possible to see camels on the road driving to Baikonur.
The climate is extremely continental, thus winters are cold up to -10 degrees Celsius, and summers are dry and warm, up to +40 degrees Celsius. The most comfortable time for a trip is spring and early autumn. However, weather does not influence on the schedule of the Soyuz rocket launches: the launch can be postponed only in case of a stormy wind with a speed of 50m/sec and that is an exceptional phenomenon.
Baikonur is situated in the south-west of Kazakhstan in the middle of the steppe. The nearest large city is Kyzylorda located 240km to the east.
There are flights to Kyzylorda from Almaty and Astana, after about 3 hours of a car ride you will reach Baikonur. There are also special flights to Baikonur from Moscow; (more info needed here – how often and which airline operates them)
Night trains from Almaty and Shymkent go to Turetam train station located only 2km away from Baikonur. There are trains from Astana to Baikonur (Turetam) with a change in Kyzylorda. Taking a train from Almaty or Astana, you will spend more than 24 hours in the train, from Shymkent it takes around 15 hours.
Permissions and entry/exit requirements
Baikonur is located on the territory of Kazakhstan, but until 2050, it is rented by Russia. That is why Russian legislation applies on the territory of the city and the cosmodrome. Russian rouble is used as the currency.
Despite the fact that Baikonur is not a secret military object anymore, it is still necessary to obtain a permission from Roscosmos (Russian organization responsible for the space exploration) for getting in to the city and the space center. You will be asked to provide the permission at all checkpoints upon entry and exit. Moreover, it is required to apply for this paper 2 months before the trip to Baikonur. There are 40 travel agencies around the world eligible to apply, Advantour is in the list.
What to see
Baikonur travel guide won’t be full without the details of sights. The city is related exceptionally with the space, and thus all sights of the city and the cosmodrome are tied with the history of rocket construction and the space. There are few exceptions though: old locomotive, an Orthodox Church and a rather new Muslim mosque.
Main sights of Baikonur include two museums (one in the city and one at the cosmodrome), and numerous monuments scattered around the city. The city has many busts of famous rocket designers and astronauts; however, the brightest monument of all is the model of the rocket Soyuz.
Where to buy souvenirs
If you wish to take something more “spacey” than a colorful photo of the Baikonur, there is a wide range of souvenirs available. The central bazaar of Baikonur will offer a poor choice – you will find there cheap magnets and collective coins. There are small souvenir shops in the museums of Baikonur selling magnets, coins, samples of rockets, statues and other merchandise.
Though if you want something unique, something like the uniforms of staff members of cosmodrome, flags with symbols, table clock, good quality rocket samples, etc, then take a walk to the Glushko street, the dorm No.3. There on the second floor a unique souvenir shop of the Baikonur is hidden.