Spaceport. Cosmodrome. Be still my beating heart.
We do not hear as much as once we did about space exploration. Yet high in the heavens above us Russians and Americans co-operate in a common spirit of exploration. And somewhere on Mars a small robot has just drilled another hole in the planet’s rock. Hubble peers through space, and has found dead stars with planet-dust whirling about them; Cassini gazes out at hurricanes on Saturn, and the Kepler unmanned spacecraft took itself into safe mode for an unknown reason.
That’s the News from NASA. But there’s another cosmodrome, another gateway to the stars: Baikonur, on the desert steppe of Kazakhstan: the world’s first space launch facility. the world’s largest space launch facility. Sputnik 1 took off there; Yuri Gagarin left and rejoined the earth’s surface, held in thrall, in the meantime, by its curved gravitational path. It has been home to Soyuz, Proton, Tsyklon,Dnepr, Zenit and Buran spacecraft, and took over shuttling supplies to the International Space Station after the Colombia tragedy.
Under Russia it was Leninsk. But it was returned to Kazakhstan, and Yeltsin afforded it a name change, though no-one knows where its most recent name came from. Some say Baikonur was so named to misdirect the West. It is really a small Russian mining town about 20o miles northeast of the launch pads.
It has a small, unassuming museum, created partly out of Yuri Gagarin’s cottage, filled with bits and pieces from the space race.
NASA uses barges; but Leninsk was gifted the largest industrial railway on the planet to haul the great spaceships to their launch pads.
Today my eyes lit on a Telegraph picture of the day. It was the bottom portion of a space rocket, a jet bound for the stars. A Soyuz-2.1b carrier rocket, to be precise, with a distinctive cargo. It carried a Bion-M satellite.
The Russians have never had much compunction about sending animals into orbit. The last rocket was expected to land on May 19 according to the Russian Space Web.And if it is like its predecessor, the satellite going into space yesterday was filled with biological experiments.
Animals in space. A sort of cosmic Noah’s ark, lacking only a cataclysm on earth to make the allegory complete.
The first Bion-M flight started out on April 19, and if the landing was successful, touched down a calendar month later.
I wonder how much we will learn about the creatures that spent a month orbiting the globe?
Take a look at these amazing panoramic views. Hypnotic, epic, unforgettable.