Baikonur Cosmodrome - World's First Spacecraft Launch Site
Seaport for ships, Airports for aircrafts, similarly there is Spaceport or Cosmodrome for spacecrafts. Cosmodrome is a site for launching spacecrafts. The word Cosmodrome has traditionally been used for a site capable of launching spacecraft into orbit around earth or on interplanetary trajectories. We will explore the world's first Cosmodrome here. The oldest cosmodrome in the world is Baikonur cosmodrome which lies in southern Kazakhstan. Baikonur was constructed by Soviet Union in 1950s for its space programmes. Since then pre and post Soviet Union this cosmodrome has been used for launching spacecraft into orbits around earth and other space related developments.
Do you love space science? Do you love to explore exciting things about space? Then Cosmodromes would also be on top of your list of exploration. So, when we talk about Baikonur, where exactly it is located? It is located in the desert steppe of Kazakhstan, about 200 kilometres (124 mi) east of the Aral Sea, north of the Syr Darya river, near Tyuratam railway station, at 90 metres (300 ft) above sea level. The cosmodrome is sufficiently away from centre of populations. The location being away from population gives it advantage of safe launching and also most of the days in a year here are clear which is another advantage. Connectivity of the cosmodrome with other cities and countries is good by rail, road and air. The place is leased till 2050 to Russia by Kazakh Government though.
What makes Baikonur special? Baikonur Cosmodrome was the first site in history used for launching earth’s first satellite and first man in space. Sputnik 1 was the first artificial earth satellite launched from this cosmodrome by Soviet Union in 1957. Vostok 1 was the first human spaceflight in human history launched again from Baikonur Cosmodrome in 1961. In this flight Soviet comonaut Yuri Gagarin, was the first human to cross into outer space. Flight of the first woman velentina Tereshkova in 1963 was also launched from Baikonur only. First Indian Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma also travelled to space as part of Intercosmos programme from Baikonur only. So historically Bakonur witnessed a first wave of space programmes in the world led by Soviet Union.
After dissolution of Soviet Era though Russia agreed to a lease of the site for 20 years with 10 year extension option at $ 115 million annual lease. In 2005 Russian Federation Council ratified agreement and lease term is now till 2050. But rent annual amount stayed at $115 million which is matter of dispute between Kazakhstan and Russia. However Russia is planning to construct the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Amur Oblast in order to reduce dependency on Baikonur.
Today Baikonur has all the facilities for launching both manned and unmanned spacecrafts. It supports several generations of Russian spacecraft like Soyuz, proton, Dnepr and Buran. During the temporary lapse of the United States' Space Shuttle program after the Columbia Disaster in 2003 it played an essential role in operating and resupplying of the International Space Station(ISS) with Soyuz and Progress spacecraft. Baikonur has its own largest Industrial railway network in the world for all its logistic purposes. The railway is used for all stages of launch preparation, and all spacecraft are transported to the launchpads by the special Schnabel cars. The railway is used for all stages of launch preparation, and all spacecraft are transported to the launchpads by the special Schnabel cars. Also Biakonur rail is well connected with railway for public of Kazakhstan and with the rest of the world. Baikonur has two multi-purpose on site airports too. Baikonur Cosmodrome has a small museum as well which is home to a collection of space artefacts. The museum also houses photographs related to the cosmodrome history, including images of all cosmonauts. Every crew of every expedition launched from Baikonur leaves behind a signed crew photograph that is displayed behind the glass.