The space port of the former Soviet Union when it raced against the United States in space domination was the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soviet Union actually won the race to outer space, and the first ever space launch facility in the world was this one in the desert steppe of Kazakhstan.
Vostok 1, the first manned spacecraft in the history of the human race, was launched in a Baikonur launch pad called Gagarins Start. The first person that was launched outside planet earth is a Kazakh cosmonaut. Baikonur is the largest continuing space launch facility today. It is found about 200 kilometers to the east of Aral Sea near the Tyuratam Railway Station. It is about 90 meters above sea level. Although a property of Kazakhstan and, in fact, one of the country’s leading tourist destinations, it is run and managed jointly by the Russian Federal Space Agency and Russian Space Forces. The space complex is leased by Russia until 2050. The Cosmodrome was built by the former Soviet Union and it is fully functioning until today. It is a busy space port that launches commercial, military and scientific missions every year.
Building this huge space complex in 1955 was one of the most expensive projects ever taken by the Soviet Government. Construction of the complex itself was already costly, but added to that were several hundred kilometers of new road systems, train lines and a fully functioning town that provided housing, schools and support infrastructure for the Cosmodrome workers. The town became a city in 1966.
Since Baikonur Cosmodrome is located in Tyuratam, 320 kilometers away from the actual tiny town of Baikonur, people now believe that the Soviet Government deliberately misnamed the space port to confuse American intelligence. Others believe that Tyuratam was also known as Baikonur even before the space port was constructed. To settle the matter, then President Boris Yeltsin officially named the area Baikonur in December 1995.
Since its establishment in the 1950s, the Russian space port has launched several aircrafts in space, including the historic Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957; Luna 1, the first spacecraft ever that went very near the moon on January 2, 1959; the first manned flight by Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961; and the first woman to fly to outer space, Valentin Tereshkova in 1963. It was also here where Czechoslovakia, East Germany and France launched their own crafts to space.
The Baikonur tour package involves two programs. The first one is a tour to the space port during an actual launch of a manned space flight. Tourists are allowed to observe as the astronauts prepare for the launch and the Soyuz spaceship is set in place. During the launch, tourists stand only 2 kilometers away from the Gagarinsky launch pad. The price of this one-of-a-kind tour costs more than 3,500 euro.
The second tour program to Baikonur Cosmodrome is scheduled during the launch of a cargo space flight. This happens more often, since the Proton cargo spaceship takes off five times more than Soyuz. Tourists are allowed to stand just 3 kilometers from the launch pad, far enough for safety and yet close enough to feel the earth shaking. This package costs more than 2,500 euros.