Moscow is a bucket list destination for space travellers. It is the starting point for all real travellers to space, but it is also a great starting point for travellers interested in the history of space flight. Moscow was home to one of the founding fathers of modern space exploration. It was here where Sergei Korolev experimented with rockets as early as the 1930’s. His amateur rocketry club evolved into a leading global space industry that launched the first ever satellite in 1957, followed by the first human into orbit in 1961.
Korolev lived and worked in Moscow most of his life. The city of Bolshevo, on the outskirts of Moscow, about 15 kilometers from city center, became the heart of the Russian space industry, when the Energia artillery plant was converted into a rocket and capsule manufacturing site in the 1950’s. After Korolev’s death in 1966 the city name was changed into Korolev. From here the space industry spread all over Russia, but the Soyuz capsules are still manufactured in Korolev.
The major Russian cosmonaut training facility is located in nearby Star City (Zvyozdny gorodok in Russian), about 25 kilometers north east of Moscow. Moscow is proud of its space heroes, resulting in many museums and monuments dedicated to space. Some of these are open to the general public, others are open by invitation or through special travel agents only. This blog post describes some of these, all accessible to the general public. The best items are located at private museums, most significantly at the RKK Energia Factory Museum in Korolev, but the public places have enough to offer for the space enthusiast to put Moscow high on your bucket list. Follow me on a virtual visit to some of the key Moscow space places:
Map of Moscow space sights (click to enlarge)
The monument ‘To the Conquerers of Space’ is the main space sight in Moscow (metro: VDNH). The high steel structure, opposite the Soviet-era Hotel Cosmos is visible from a long distance.
All important space people and highlights are depicted at or around the monument. The way from teh metro station to the monument is called ‘Cosmonaut Alley’, where stars highlight all important Russian space missions. Underneath the steel rocket trajectory sits Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the father of modern rocketry.
The two sides of the monument contain a Soviet-style storyboard of all space heroes, lead on the eastern side (this picture) by Yuri Gagarin.
A large statue of Korolev sits on one of the sides. This one replaced a smaller stone buste in 2011.
Korolev’s pedestal celebrates the key important feats of the Chief Designer: The Soyuz rocket, the Sputnik satellite, Gagarin and (here) the first space walk, by Aleksei Leonov in 1965.
Underneath the large monument you will find the Museum of Cosmonautics, completely refurbished in 2012. The main hall contains mostly mock ups, but there are a few must-see items here, starting with the two canine cosmonauts Belka and Strelka. The two dogs orbited earth for a day on Sputnik 5, before safely returning to Earth in 1960.
The more interesting exhibits are in the back of the museum, like this mock-up of the MIR space station that you can walk through.
The museum has three flown Soyuz capsules. This is the bottom part of the Soyuz-37, that launched Russian cosmonaut Gorbatko and Vietnamese cosmonaut Pham Tuan to Salyut-6 on 23 July 1980 (also in the picture above this one). It returned to Earth in October 1980, carrying cosmonauts Popov and Ryumin from the space station.
Another original flown capsule is this Soyuz TM-7, that carried cosmonauts Volkov, Krikalyev and French research cosmonaut Jean-Loup Chrétien to the MIR space station on 26 November 1988. It is now in a display showing the Arctic survival capabilities of a Soyuz crew.
The third flown capsule is an interesting study case. The sign at the display says that the return capsule in this Soyuz stack is the 2004 TMA-4 capsule (the top part is a habitat module mock-up). However, the interior of the capsule looks much older than the TMA-series. The bottom of the capsule says ‘Russia’, so it is post-1991. If this is indeed the 2004 TMA-4 capsule (possibly with an older refitted interior), it was the launching capsule of Dutch ESA Astronaut André Kuipers, Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka and NASA Astronaut Mike Fincke.
The sign explaining the two capsules in the stack, clearly referring to the mock-up on top, with the Soyuz TMA-4 return capsule at the bottom. Is this true?
The interior of the return capsule, with a dummy in a spacesuit (carrying no name tags). To me this doesn’t look like a 2004 TMA-series capsule, but I could be wrong…
Another highlight at the Museum of Cosmonautics is this original Apollo-11 spacesuit of Michael Collins, who stayed behind in the command module while his crew mates Armstrong and Aldrin became the first people on the Moon in 1969.
Much less known to visitors to Moscow is this museum, at less than 500 meters from the Museum of Cosmonautics. It is the house of Sergei Korolev, where he lived from 1960 until his death in 1966.
This house with a hectare of garden was a gift to Korolev by Soviet president Nikita Khrushchev in 1960. A modest middle class house to our standards, but the best of the best in the 1960’s Soviet Union. It has been a museum since Korolev died in 1966.
Also nearby is this Vostok rocket, displayed at the end of VDNH Park, a 15 minutes walk from the Conquerers of Space Monument (metro: VDNH). It is a real Vostok-K (8K72K) that was used to launch Yuri Gagarin and other early cosmonauts into space in the 1960’s. This model was installed at the ‘All Russia Exhibition Center’ in 1966
You can stand directly underneath the five RD-107/108 engines, with their distinct groups of four nozzles each. A great place for rocket photography!
Moving to the south of Moscow city center we visit Gorki Park (metro Park Kultury). A nice place for a weekend day stroll or a quiet drink. Also the final resting place of Soviet Space Shuttle Buran OK-TVA.
This particular shuttle was a structural test vehicle, for load, stress, heat and vibration tests. It was never built to fly in space, but has the same structural components as the actual orbiter.
It used to be a small space museum, but is now closed and left to the elements. It now functions as the roof of a bicycle rental shop that is housed underneath.
It is a sad sight to see this piece of Soviet space history in a very bad shape, being used as a roof only.
Close to Gorki Park is Park Kultury, with its art stalls and artsy fountains where Moscow’s kids cool down from the summer heat. We find our friend Yuri Gagarin in a basketball outfit.
The town of Korolev is located about 15 kilometers northeast of Moscow city center, a 30 minute train ride from Yaroslavsky railway station to Bolshevo. This is the true birthplace of the Russian space industry.
The main attraction for space fans here is the private RKK Energia Museum. Unfortunately we didn’t register in time to visit. Instead we visit the predecessor of that museum, the public Museum of the City of Korolev. Here you see how an artillery plant was converted into a rocket factory, making the town famous in trhe 1950’s and 1960’s. Definitely a must-see museum for Russian space history fans.
The most interesting exhibits are to be found in the ‘scrapyard’ behind the museum (ask the curator to get access). Here we found two flown Soyuz capsules of unknown origin. Parked here because they don’t fit the doors to the museum…
It is a pity to see these two historic capsules left to the elements, partially wrapped in plastic foil. They are gifts to the museum by the RKK Energia company, but the curator did not know which capsules these are. This capsule has no bottom and no interior. The other one is slightly more complete, but also misses the interior.
Walking passed the RKK Energia factory, in the middle of the city. You easily spot the Vostok rocket on the factory grounds. This is as close as we could get to it. Still worth the short walk from the museum to take a quick picture.
Last but not least, make sure you visit the sights that all modern-day Soyuz crews visit at and around the Red Square, like this Csar Cannon inside the Kremlin. Insert shows the Soyuz TMA-13M crew a few weeks before lift off in May 2014.
Practical information: In my previous post about Moscow I described some of the practicalities related to visiting Moscow for a citytrip. All sights mentioned in this post can easily be reached by Metro, apart from Korolev, which is reached by train as described. We didn’t visit nearby Star City during this visit (there needs to be something for the next time). After our visit to Moscow we flew to Baikonur in Kazakhstan to attend the launch of Soyuz TMA-13M on 28 May 2014. Please see my next blog for the stories of our #AlexTweetup space adventure in the steppe (to be written soon).