Our behind-the-scenes exploration of the Russian space program features a VIP viewing of the manned launch of a Soyuz spacecraft.
Inside the Russian Space Program
10 days from $14,295
Our behind-the-scenes exploration of the Russian space program features a VIP viewing of the manned launch of a Soyuz spacecraft.
- A Q&A with Expert Michelle Thaller
- A Q&A with Expert Emilio Cueto
- Smithsonian at Oxford
- A Smithsonian Journeys Around the World Adventure, Part III
Optional St. Petersburg PostProgram Option — 4 Days, 3 Nights
Day 9 — Depart Moscow for St. Petersburg
Following breakfast at the hotel, enjoy some free time in Moscow before an afternoon transfer. In the afternoon, take an express train to St. Petersburg. Lunch is independent on the train. On arrival in St. Petersburg, transfer to a centrally located hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,D)
Day 10 — St. Petersburg
Today explore St. Petersburg, often described as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Its miles of canals, laced together with graceful bridges set amidst 18th-century buildings, have earned it the name, “Venice of the North”. Conceived of by Peter the Great and designed by his favorite European architects, St. Petersburg was meant to be Peter’s link to the western world. As the capital of Russia from its birth in 1703 until the revolution, the city celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2003. Today explore the city, the Peter & Paul Fortress and the Hermitage Museum.
Begin with a short drive along Nevsky Prospekt, the three-mile avenue that is the backbone of the city, introduces us to Peter’s beautiful city. Stops include Gostiny Dvor, the city’s oldest and largest shopping center; Eliseyevsky, an extravagantly beautiful pre-Revolutionary food store, decorated with crystal chandeliers; and the impressive Kazan Cathedral.
The morning is dedicated to exploring the Hermitage. The Hermitage, also known as the Winter Palace, was built in 1754-62 as the principal home of the czars, and was lavishly rebuilt in 1839 after it was destroyed by fire. Originally a small private palace gallery begun by Catherine the Great with a purchase of 255 paintings from Berlin, the Hermitage today houses the largest museum collection in the world. It includes works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, the French Impressionists, Van Gogh, Matisse, Gauguin, and Picasso. The fabulous rooms with their inlaid floors and gilded woodwork and the grand double entry staircase are works of art in themselves.
After lunch, those who wish may stay at the Hermitage to explore the museum independently. The rest of the group will continue with the city tour, visiting St. Isaac’s Cathedral, Church of the Savior on the Blood, and Peter and Paul Fortress.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral took 40 years to complete. The 48 red granite columns around the lower part of the building weigh 110 tons each and the upper columns around the rotunda weigh 67 tons apiece. The dome is covered with 220 pounds of gold, and the interior columns faced with lapis lazuli and malachite. The cathedral is bursting with sculptures, frescoes, stained glass works and woodcarvings. The Church of the Savior on the Blood was built on the spot where Czar Alexander II was killed by a bomb in 1881, and was commissioned in the style of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow by his son and successor, Alexander III. For many years closed for renovation, the church's beautiful interior is now open to visitors. Four jasper columns inside mark the spot where the czar was killed.
Across the Neva River from the Hermitage on Hare Island, the Fortress of Peter and Paul was one of the first structures in St. Petersburg. Peter the Great laid the cornerstone of the earthen fortress in May 1703, intending it to be used to repel a Swedish invasion. After the Swedes capitulated, the fortress was transformed into a prison in 1718. Most importantly, it is the burial place for most of the czars beginning with Peter the Great. Enjoy a free evening to explore on your own. (B,L)
Day 11 — St. Petersburg
Spend the day touring the country estates of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great outside the city. Travel by hydrofoil, weather permitting, to the site where Peter the Great built his estate, Petrodvorets (Peterhof, as it was called prior to 1944) on a ridge by the Gulf of Finland 19 miles outside St. Petersburg. The former imperial residence is surrounded with extensive parks and gardens intended to rival Versailles, complete with an array of gilded statues, magnificent palaces, and gravity-fed fountains.
Tour the massive Grand Palace with its parquet floors, lavish apartments, and grand galleries. Crowning the top of the bluff above the Grand Cascade, the palace is an imposing sight. Inside, 30 beautiful rooms run the length of the narrow building. Some still retain their baroque décor while others underwent renovations into the 18th and 19th centuries.
Next, travel by coach to the town of Pushkin, site of the royal residence Catherine's Palace, originally built in 1717 by Catherine I. After lunch at a traditional restaurant, enjoy a guided tour of the estate. In 1752, famed architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli enlarged and embellished the palace, extending the facade to its current grandeur. The estate and palace buildings were almost completely destroyed by the Germans during World War II, but they have been carefully and expertly restored into a brilliant architectural monument.
The fully restored Amber Room in Catherine's Palace, now open, has been years in the making. The wall coverings of amber panels, created in the time of Peter the Great, were taken by the Nazis during the Second World War and never recovered. The beautifully crafted amber panels we see today were re-created from photos and descriptions of the originalsand have become one of the highlights of Catherine's Palace. Return to the city in the evening and enjoy a farewell dinner at a local restaurant marking a successful completion of the journey. (B,L,D)
Day 12 — Depart St. Petersburg
Following breakfast, flight time permitting, the tour concludes with a transfer to the airport for international departure. (B)
Kempinski Hotel Moika 22 (or similar)
The Kempinski Hotel Moika 22 is housed in a pre-revolutionary mansion on the Moika Embankment just across from the Hermitage. Its renovated interior is furnished with a mix of classic and antique pieces. Amenities include the ninth floor Bellevue Bar with beautiful views over the city, the Beau Rivage restaurant featuring fine dining, a rooftop Wellness Center and a Tea Room where a Russian/English high tea is offered every day. Rooms include satellite TV, wireless and cable Internet, minibar, hair dryers, heated bathroom floors and bathrobes.
Optional Cosmonaut Training Extension
We offer a number of Optional Cosmonaut Training activities that require staying in Moscow for up to two extra nights. Please visit our Tour Considerations page for more details.
Please call or ask us a question to register interest for our 2016 Optional Cosmonaut Training Extension.
To see itinerary, please click on an option below.
Days 1 & 2 – U.S. and Moscow, Russia
Depart the U.S. on individual flights bound for Moscow. On arrival in Moscow transfer to the hotel in the city center. Meet fellow participants at the welcome dinner this evening. (In-Flight, D)
Day 3 – Moscow
Today drive to the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, or GCTC, in the once highly classified and secretive Star City, located in a forested region approximately 25 km from Moscow. The center was established in 1960, and since 1968 has been named for Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. On April 12, 1961, Gagarin was launched into space on board Russia’s secret Vostok spacecraft and returned safely to Earth, the first manned space flight in the history of humankind. Today the GCTC remains the premier training facility for Russian cosmonauts and foreign astronauts planning manned space flights. The GCTC closely cooperates with the European Space Agency (ESA) as well as with CNES (France) and NASA.
The center is proud of its numerous achievements, including its support of the first female cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova, and the first space walk of Alexei Leonov, as well as the training of the first space tourist, Dennis Tito, from the U.S. The center is known for its biomedical training enabling cosmonauts to efficiently spend a year or more in space and to recover quickly upon their return to Earth.
Trace the evolution of the Soviet space program, explore the Mir Space Station Simulator (the Mir was operational from 1986-2001), and learn about Russian-American cooperation in space that the GCTC supports by training joint crews on the simulator of the International Space Station. Visit the Soyuz-TMA integrated simulator and the ISS mock-up. At the massive hydro lab, Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, learn how crews acquire skills for operations on the external surface of the orbital station under simulated weightless conditions. The world’s largest centrifuge, used for simulating G-loads, is on the program as well.
Lunch is served in the Star City cafeteria, which is used by the crewmembers in training and other facilitators of the Star City complex.
Continue the tour with a visit to the Star City Museum, containing a wide assortment of space vehicles, simulators, space suits and a reproduction of Yuri Gagarin’s office, which Russian and international crews traditionally visit before their space launches.
Each participant receives a special certificate recognizing his or her visit to Star City. Return to the city center before dinner. (B,L,D)
Day 4 – Depart Moscow, fly to Baikonur, Kazakhstan
This morning transfer to the airport for a flight to the Baikonur Cosmodrome, located on the steppe of Kazakhstan. Subject to reconfirmation, this will be a special flight for those going to witness and participate in the launch.
On arrival, transfer to the hotel and settle in before dinner. In the evening enjoy an opportunity for a lecture or a meeting with a local guest and prepare for the upcoming days in Baikonur. (B,L,D)
Day 5 – Baikonur
The program begins with an early-morning viewing of the roll-out of the Soyuz Rocket. This up-close-and-personal sight is awe-inspiring. 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.
Spend the rest of the day touring sites around Baikonur, including 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, and the monument to the beginning of the Space Age.
Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant in the nearby town of Leninsk. (B,L,D)
Day 6 – Baikonur
Spend the day touring sites around the town of Leninsk, including the Central Market and a visit to the International Space School. Dinner is back at the hotel with an evening lecture, time permitting. (B,L,D)
Day 7 – Baikonur
During the course of the day, witness the process leading up to the launch. Experience behind-the-scenes events, including the ISS Crew Press Conference, send-off from the Cosmonaut Hotel, and the Space Crew ready-to-go official report. In between these events visit launch pads, assembly and integration buildings, and other sites throughout Baikonur cosmodrome. (B,L,D)
Day 8 – Soyuz Launch, Depart Baikonur and fly back to Moscow
Today is the day of the manned space launch of the Soyuz to the International Space Station. Transfer to the VIP launch viewing area to watch the launch of the Soyuz, which is currently projected for 3:16 am Baikonur time.
Following the launch, return to the hotel. Later in the morning, after breakfast, transfer to the airport for the flight back to Moscow. (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 9 – Moscow
Today stop at Moscow’s Novodevichy Convent, whose main attraction is its cemetery. Such luminaries as Gogol, Chekhov, Scriabin, Mayakovsky, Stanislavsky, Prokofiev, Eisenstein, Khrushchev, Raisa Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin are buried here, as well as a number of prominent cosmonauts, and some of the graves are quite fanciful.
Later 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.
Enjoy a free afternoon for independent discovery. Tonight toast to the journey during the festive farewell dinner. (B,L,D)
Day 10 – Depart Moscow
Depart Moscow for individual departures to the U.S. (B)
Dates subject to change depending on the Soyuz launch schedule.
Included meals are denoted as follows: Breakfast (B), Lunch (L), Reception (R), Dinner (D)