Inside the Russian Space Program

Our behind-the-scenes exploration of the Russian space program features a VIP viewing of the manned launch of a Soyuz spacecraft.

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 Russian cosmonauts  The raising of the rocket ceremony  Preparing for the launch of a Soyuz rocket  A Soyuz spacecraft  A Russian cosmonaut waves to onlookers  A Soyuz rocket in flight  Spectators at a launch  Smithsonian Journeys travelers at launch site  A group of Smithsonian Journeys travelers  Moscow's Red Square, a World Heritage site  St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow  Moscow in the evening  The ISS Crew press conference at the Cosmonaut Hotel  The ISS Crew press conference at the Cosmonaut Hotel  Cold War Museum Bunker, Moscow  Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City   The Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City  The Mir Space Station Simulator at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center  The Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, where crews acquire skills for operations on the external surface of the orbital station under simulated weightless conditions.

Get as close to outer space as possible while keeping your feet on the ground during our exciting tour of the Russian space program. Enjoy unparalleled access to briefing sessions and VIP viewing areas in Moscow’s Star City and at Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome, then witness the launch of a Soyuz spacecraft.

Highlights Include:

  • Star City: Meet with a Russian cosmonaut and examine the Mir Space Station Simulator, the Hydrolab for zero-G training, and the largest centrifuge in the world.
  • Baikonur Cosmodrome: Fly to Kazakhstan’s arid steppe to visit the Russian space launch facility—and witness the manned launch of a Soyuz spacecraft. Mingle with cosmodrome workers, officials, and cosmonauts at the prelaunch activities. Watch the rollout of the Soyuz from the assembly hangar to the launch pad, the raising of the rocket ceremony, and the walk along the Alley of Cosmonauts.
  • Soyuz Launch: Enjoy a VIP viewing as the Soyuz spacecraft breaks free of Earth’s atmosphere on its way to the International Space Station. 


Days 1 & 2 – U.S. and Moscow, Russia

Fly to Moscow, losing from eight (East Coast) to 11 hours (West Coast). Arriving in Moscow, meet fellow travelers at a welcome dinner. 

Day 3 – Moscow

Drive outside of Moscow to the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, or GCTC, in the once highly classified and secretive Star City. The center was established in 1960, and since 1968 has been named for Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. Today the GCTC remains the premier training facility for Russian cosmonauts and foreign astronauts planning manned space flights.

Trace the evolution of the Soviet space program, exploring the Mir Space Station Simulator (the Mir was operational from 1986-2001), and learn about training joint Russian-American crews on the simulator of the International Space Station (ISS). At the massive hydro lab, or Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, learn how crews acquire skills for operations outside the space station under simulated weightless conditions. The world’s largest centrifuge, used for simulating G-loads, is on the program as well. Enjoy lunch in the Star City cafeteria, used by the crewmembers in training and other facilitators of the Star City complex. Meet and talk with one of the Russian cosmonauts. Each participant receives a special certificate recognizing his or her visit to Star City. (B,L,D)

Day 4 – Moscow, fly to Baikonur, Kazakhstan

Fly to the Baikonur Cosmodrome, on the arid steppe of Kazakhstan. This is a special flight for those going to witness and participate in the launch. On arrival, enjoy an opportunity for a lecture or a meeting with a local guest speaker to prepare for the next few days. You will enjoy unparalleled access to VIP viewing areas and briefing sessions during your time here. (B,L,D)

Day 5 – Baikonur

Begin with an early morning viewing of the roll-out of the awe-inspiring Soyuz Rocket. Follow the Soyuz to the launch pad site and watch the raising of the rocket together with the press, military personnel, cosmonauts and their relatives. 

Visit the main launch pad, the “Gagarin Start,” where the Sputnik launches took place, and mingle with the press and other guests.  Visit the Baikonur Museum, the Yuri Gagarin and Sergei Korolev living apartments, the monument to the beginning of the Space Age, and the Zenit launch pad. (B,L,D)

Day 6 – Baikonur

Tour the Buran hangar (approximately the size of the Astrodome) where the rockets are assembled, and one of several other launch pads. Visit the local school where students study and build model rockets. Attend the ISS Crew Press Conference at the Cosmonaut Hotel, a chance to ask any burning questions you may have of the next ISS crew. (B,L,D)

Day 7 – Baikonur, launch of the Soyuz

Today is the day of the manned space launch of the Soyuz to the International Space Station. Witness the process before, during and after the launch.  Experience behind-the-scenes events, including the send-off from the Cosmonaut Hotel and the Space Crew ready-to-go official report. Gather at the VIP launch viewing area for the heart-stirring launch of the Soyuz. (B,L,D) 

Note: The order of events and sites visited in Baikonur may be changed or moved around to coincide with the launch time window.

Day 8 – Baikonur, fly back to Moscow

This morning after breakfast, view the docking of the Soyuz with the International Space Station at a specially equipped theater in Baikonur. After the docking, transfer to the airport for a flight back to Moscow. Upon arrival in Moscow, take a private tour of the Cold War Museum Bunker. Over 200 feet below Moscow is the Secured Command Post “Tagansky,” an abandoned relic of the Cold War built to withstand a nuclear attack. Stocked with food and provisions, the 75,000-square-foot space was meant to sustain 5,000 people for three months. Ordered by Stalin in 1951, the shelter was finished in 1956, and soon became a secret communication bunker and, reportedly, a missile control center. A tour of the formerly secret bunker includes a video presentation on the Cold War. Raise a toast to an out-of-this-world journey during the festive farewell dinner. (B,L,D)

Day 9 – Depart Moscow

Depart Moscow for the U.S.  Those taking the optional cosmonaut training spend an extra day or two in Moscow training at Star City and depart to the U.S. the following day.  See Tour Extensions for descriptions of Optional Cosmonaut Training in Star City. 

Dates subject to change depending on the Soyuz launch schedule.