Yesterday we rode past the Russian space launch station at Baikonur, by amazing coincidence on the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first manned space flight, which took off from the launch pad there at nine o’clock on the morning of April 12th 1961! There were official celebrations at Baikonur, but as it costs about $800 to visit the cosmodrome not to mention the 40 days to organise the relevant documentation, they sadly had to miss out on our presence.
The area is now leased by Russia from Kazakhstan, but as the main G3 road artery cuts through between the town and the space launch facilities, it is easy to see from the road. So here we are at nine o’clock on April 12th 2011, exactly fifty years to the minute after the historic launch, symbolically toasting Yuri in ‘Heaven’ vodka, with the Baikonur cosmodrome behind us! Incredible to think that Vostok 1 was streaking into the sky across the same background fifty years ago, although of course we would never have been allowed within a hundred miles then!
Riding over the brow of a hill today I was rather taken aback to see what appeared to be a group of semi naked men in their underpants milling about on the road beside a battered coach. It was with some trepidation that I continued plodding towards them, sizing up my rather limited chances of a speedy escape on Zorbee as three of these strange creatures approached excitedly. However their intentions proved to be nothing more sinister than a request for a photo.
And it turned out that they were a group of Russian marathon runners from Karaganda running a Super Marathon Relay from Baikonur to Moscow in celebration of the Gagarin launch! The mutual delight when we discovered we were all involved in our own marathons resulted in a general photofest.!
They are expecting to take about three months to reach Moscow, and our best wishes go with this friendly and enthusiastic bunch!