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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Get as close to outer space as possible while keeping your feet on the ground on this fascinating exploration of the Russian Space Program. Observe the heart-stirring launch of a manned Soyuz spacecraft from VIP viewing at the launch site.
Begin just outside Moscow, in Star City, the former secret training facility for Soviet cosmonauts, where space travelers from all over the world prepare for their flights. Examine the Mir Space Station Simulator, the Hydrolab for zero-G training, the largest centrifuge in the world, and the Soyuz-TMA Simulator.
Next, fly to the Russian space launch facility, Baikonur Cosmodrome, on the arid steppe of Kazakhstan. Mingle with cosmodrome workers, officials, and former and current cosmonauts at the pre-launch activities, including 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. Be on the spot to see the Soyuz spacecraft break free of the 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.