Monday, October 19, 2015

Russian Space Program

Space exploration and travel is one area where Russia and even the former Soviet Union have exhibited undisputed excellence. From Sputnik, the unmanned satellite launched in the 1950s which proved that the Soviet Union possessed intercontinental ballistic missiles, to the situation today when the U.S. has cut back its manned space program to the point where the only way U.S. astronauts can reach the International Space Station is via Russian Soyuz rockets launched from Kazakhstan, Russia defers to no one in this area. Pictured above is Mission Control in Korolev, a Moscow suburb, one of several places around the world which manage the International Space Station.

If you have any interest in space travel, a visit here is definitely worthwhile though difficult to arrange. You must go with a group, and applications normally must be made at least 45 days in advance. Explanations about the centre are given by a guide in Russian only, so you will probably need a translator. Some members of my group noted that it looked as if working here could be pretty boring most of the time, except in emergencies, and I suppose that is true. It may be similar to working in air traffic control.

We learned that the International Space Station orbits 400 km. above the earth, and the astronauts aboard work mainly on experiments commissioned by industry. The crew of the station varies, and now it includes three Russians, two Americans and one Japanese astronaut, with American Scott Kelly in command. Some astronauts have stayed in orbit a year and a half, but most only for a maximum of six months. The language aboard is mainly English with some Russian added.

It's a long time since I visited mission control in Cape Canaveral, Florida when I was a kid, and I've never seen the operation in Houston. So I was happy to get a view of how this international program is still operating well despite growing tensions between Russia and the West. We did learn that Russia is building its own launch facility in the Russian Far East to replace the Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Apparently they think the Kazaks are charging too much rent for it.

If you want to see this facility it may be possible to do so through a tour group without the 45 day advance notice--our group leader said he had seen an ad in Moscow for a day trip at a cost of about $260. I'm not sure who was running the tour, but Patriarshy Dom is one organisation that offers interesting though often pricey tours of unusual attractions around the Russian capital. You can check their schedule at, which is also a good source if you are seeking a place to live or a job in Moscow. I was amazed at the amount some private turoring jobs are paying--up to 1,000 British pounds a week or more. Shades of Czarist times, when noble families usually employed tutors from Western Europe and sometimes barely spoke Russian themselves.


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