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Baikonur is the first and largest cosmodrome in the world, located in Kazakhstan. From there, it is possible to launch any types of launch vehicles, this is one of three spaceports, from where it is possible to launch vehicles with a person on board.
Baikonur began construction in 1955, receiving the title of a cosmodrome in 1957. Today, Baikonur is leased by Russia until 2050, more than 50% of the country's spacecraft are launched from it.
The main launches for the ISS are made from here, in fact, the station's orbit was chosen taking into account the location of Baikonur.
With the fall of the USSR, the cosmodrome lost its secret status, and many tourists, businessmen and journalists gained access to it. However, until now Baikonur, its history is entangled in secrets and myths, some of which we will debunk.
Myths about Baikonur
Baikonur is the official name of the famous cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. There is also an opinion that the name is unofficial and somewhere you can barely hear voices that in fact Baikonur is an unknown village on the spurs of the Alatau. The very concept of Baikonur has become so familiar and has come into use that usually people do not even think about whether it is true or not. Even in the dictionaries, the authors call the cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Baikonur. In February 1955, it was decided to create a test site for missile technology, which could both deliver nuclear charges to the United States and be used to conquer space. The place was not chosen by chance - a good climate, distance from highways and borders. In fact, the cosmodrome was located in the bend of the Syr Darya, between the regional centers Kazalinsk and Dzhusaly. But to ensure secrecy, it was decided to build an imaginary cosmodrome, which was located on the northern ridges of the Alatau, in Kazakhstan, near the village of Boykonyr, or, in Russian, Baikonur. Timber was brought there with difficulty, a mock-up of launching devices was built, but there were no roads or power lines, it is not surprising that such an object did not attract the attention of American intelligence services. But the Soviet media constantly reported on the successful launch of rockets from Baikonur, which led to the persistent perception of this name as a cosmodrome. In fact, the city of Leninsk, with a population of about 70 thousand people, is located near the real cosmodrome, which during the construction was codenamed "Taiga".
Only trusted people with merits to the country got to work in Baikonur. It was also believed that it was possible to get to the service in a secret place only by pull, the other extreme was the opinion that random people from among the conscripts served there. In fact, of course, a random person could not get to serve at Baikonur. Even in the military registration and enlistment office, the "unreliable" were screened out, but young specialists, and even builders by profession, could easily get to the cosmodrome. So, no special merits to the country were required for service at Baikonur, but the candidates still passed the initial screening. The son of the deported Volga Germans or Tatars could hardly get to serve at a secret facility.
Baikonur has only launch pads and missiles. And the media are to blame for the origin of this myth. Launch pads, the faces of guests, astronauts flashed in the stories about rocket launches, it is not surprising that the opinion appeared that there were only sands and camels around. In fact, in Leninsk, officers lived with their families, which means that a number of institutions were functioning that were necessary for the normal existence of people. There is a hairdresser and a clinic. Of course, it was hard for the officers' wives to find jobs in such a closed city, but the authorities turned a blind eye to this. There were shops and a department store in the city, which eventually became a social club for women. At the same time, the assortment of goods was rich, there was no shortage at Baikonur. The main attraction of the city was a luxurious building with a hotel "Cosmos" and a restaurant. It was there that all the guests and visiting astronauts stayed. The hotel even had branded cutlery with the image of a rocket, which even famous guests often took away for souvenirs. Despite the fact that the city was inhabited by several thousand people, and that it was only a kilometer from the railway, few people guessed about its existence, the train schedule was drawn up in such a way that trains would pass by in the middle of the night. And at this time, residents were required to turn off the lights in their homes. Over time, the city expanded, the barracks were replaced by brand new five-story buildings. Today, almost 70 thousand people live in the city, naturally the city has all the necessary infrastructure.
Living conditions were difficult, in many respects this was done so that people did not relax. The opposite of this myth was the opinion that people in Baikonur received high wages, good rations, and the work schedule was sparing. There were also rumors that inmates worked at such facilities, who did not have to pay at all. The builders of Baikonur themselves remember that the salary, even with allowances, was not bad - about 200 rubles, but by no means unique. The workers were given all the clothes for free, but the work schedule, due to the heat, was like this - from 4 to 10 in the morning and from 4 to 20 in the evening. The workers had 2 days off, but in preparation for the launch, during emergency work, the schedule was noticeably distorted, they were allowed to sleep 3-4 hours a day. At first, people lived in barracks, after which typical houses were built. The supply was good, the store had all kinds of products and household appliances. Thus, there was practically nothing special in living conditions, preferential opportunities were in addition to difficult conditions.
Baikonur was isolated from the outside world. Many believe that the inhabitants of the cosmodrome did not know anything about what was happening in the country and the world, they were forbidden to call, read newspapers. This approach was typical of the Soviet era; it was believed that complete isolation of people would contribute to the preservation of state secrets. In fact, people. Those who served at Baikonur did not lose touch with their relatives, they knew where they served. We also wrote letters home about the place of service, about labor and army days, about the weather and camels, it was even possible to joke about rockets and astronauts. Naturally, all this was within the bounds of what was permissible, since a non-disclosure receipt was given. Relatives were not allowed to visit, but the officers' wives lived in the city with their husbands. So there was no particular closeness, the city did not lose contact with the outside world.
Ordinary employees penetrated the secrets of the Motherland. It is believed that being in close proximity to secrets and not knowing them is simply impossible. At the cosmodrome, there was a passage system based on images of animals. Each sector had its own beast. The pass was stamped, for example, foxes, which made it possible to get the opportunity to work at the desired object, room. Over time, the entire pass was stamped by the whole zoo. Many people were not at all interested in what was happening behind closed doors, since the Soviet upbringing gave respect for state secrets. People just did their job without going beyond what was permitted.
The Baikonur employees communicated freely with the astronauts. It seems quite natural that close proximity to rockets and astronauts entails a personal acquaintance with the conquerors of space. In fact, the cosmonauts did not stand out from the crowd, they walked in the same military uniform as other officers. By the way, the uniform was adapted for a hot climate - a wide-brimmed officer's panama, a tunic with sleeves without cuffs and trousers "worn out", so the inhabitant of Baikonur was different from other military men. The inhabitants of the cosmodrome themselves learned about who exactly went into space from the news release. A rather narrow circle of people communicated with the cosmonauts; therefore, ordinary employees and officers usually did not intersect.
For the residents of Baikonur, the most memorable events were rocket launches. When we interviewed those who served at the cosmodrome, it turned out that the most touching and memorable moments were not rocket launches at all, but simple life joys - whether a letter from a loved one, or unexpected snow in the desert. Therefore, one should not assume that heroic service should be exclusively heroic and events, memories.
The Baikonurovites practically did not leave the place of service at the end of the contract, remaining to make a career there. What kind of person does not seek home? So with Baikonur - the majority still counted the days until they were sent home, and the authorities did not interfere with this.
Space tourism has appeared only in our time. At present, tourists began to appear at the cosmodrome who want to see the launch of the rocket with their own eyes, and among the cosmonauts there are those who got there for money. Today there are over 10 hotels in Baikonur, including international ones. However, space tourism existed before, and it was for top officials. According to eyewitnesses, missile launches were organized for distinguished guests, for officials it was something like fireworks. However, missiles with people were practically not used; combat installations were used for such purposes. And the workers on such days were hidden so that they would not be seen. They fired rockets for Brezhnev, French President Pompidou watched the launch of three missiles, and the President of Czechoslovakia - two. Isn't it space tourism?
There are no secrets left in Baikonur that the public does not know about. Again, public opinion tried to form such an opinion. We hear that many tourists visit Baikonur, that nobody needs the cosmodrome today - neither Russia nor Kazakhstan, that the state is looking for specialists to work there. All this suggests that there are no secrets and secrets left at this facility. In fact, the installation and test building was never shown on TV, and television operators are not allowed to the inner filling of the cosmodrome. All the same, there is fierce competition in the field of space technologies, therefore all secrets will not be revealed. It is unlikely that the secret about the death of tens and hundreds of conscripts who, out of their own carelessness, inhaled poisonous paint, will hardly ever be revealed - no one needs it. So the cosmodrome will keep its secrets for a long time.