Curator of planetary science Steve Lee has just embarked on a rare
adventure to enter the once highly classified world of Russian
space travel as a privileged guest. He and and a small group of
Museum staff and guests will explore Star City, outside of Moscow,
the premier training facility for cosmonauts and foreign astronauts
heading for manned space flights. Then, they'll journey to the arid
steppe of Kazakhstan and the remote desert launch site of Baikonur
Cosmodrome. Here, they'll witness the manned launch of the Soyuz
spacecraft on its way to relieve the crew of the International
Space Station, and will have unparalleled access to VIP viewing
areas and briefing sessions.
Our Russian adventure began this morning with a 10-minute-early
departure from DIA. Four of us (two DMNS staff and two
friends of the Museum) are onboard this flight to
Chicago. From there, it's on to Frankfurt then Moscow.
We're all looking forward to meeting the other six members of our
group at the hotel in Moscow - about twenty hours from now.
We'll catch our breath in Moscow for a few days, then board a
chartered Russian Air Force plane to Baikonour, Kazahkstan on
Saturday morning. This is the main Russian launch facility,
from which the first artificial satellite (Sputnik 1) was launched
in 1957 and the first human to orbit Earth (Yuri Gagarin) was
launched in 1961. Having grown up watching the "Space Race"
between the United States and the former Soviet Union in the 1960's
and 1970's, I can't wait to spend some time in this long "off
limits to Westerners" part of the world! The main event we've
come all this way to see -- the launch of the next crew to the
International Space Station -- is targeted for late afternoon on
Oct. 23 (twelve hours earlier in Denver). There'll be lots of
"space things" to see and do before then, so stay tuned for more
updates (hopefully with some pictures and videos)!