The first ever collection of photographs showing in detail the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the world’s most important urban exploration site.
The Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan was created by the Soviets in the 1950s. It was from Baikonur in 1988 that the first Soviet spaceplane, Buran, was launched in response to the United States Space Shuttle. The Buran programme would officially end in 1993 during the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, with only one Buran launch ever taking place, in 1998. Thereafter, parts of the Baikonur Cosmodrome fell into disuse, notably the sites connected with the launch of these Soviet craft. The two shuttles that were completed remain abandoned there, laid to rest in this atmospheric place.
This is the first time that photographs of these spectacular locations have been published in a book. Jonk travelled 20km through the Kazakh desert under cover of night, entered the hangars clandestinely, and spent three nights there under the radar of military security to produce a truly incredible photographic reportage of what is considered today the world’s most important urban exploration site. Jonk reveals his excellent collection of photographs taken in the disused part of the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
As well as providing us with these amazing pictures, he describes the incredible adventure of visiting a location that is unique in the world.
GUEST REVIEW FROM MARK MAGUIRE
Today I am delighted to be able to hand my blog over to my husband Mark so that he can share with you his review of this fascinating book!
Like many people reading this review, I have long held a fascination with manned space flight and the machinations of the ‘Space Race’. There can be little doubt that whilst accepted history concludes with the victory of the USA over the USSR and those pioneering steps on the Lunar surface, this achievement was predated by a string of Soviet ‘firsts’ which commenced with Sputnik and concluded with The Buran, the focus of this particular work.
Baikonur follows the clandestine adventures of ‘Mr Blue’; ‘Mr Green’, ‘Mr Red’ and the author on their journey to the operational Cosmodrome at Baikonur in Kazakhstan. The author is something of an urban exploration specialist, and a quick scan of the bibliography at the rear of the book lists numerous expeditions to ‘abandoned’; ‘forbidden’, or ‘unusual’ places which have been visited, Chernobyl being just one notable example and Baikonur the most recent. What follows is a compelling story of ingenuity; triumph, collapse, and subsequent abandonment
After a short review of the Soviet space programme; its’ associated propaganda, and the planning / logistical exercise of getting to Toretam, the exploratory phase of the book swings into life as the author details the subterfuge; bribery, and risks associated with the journey they were about to undertake. Whilst the account isn’t terribly exciting, it does set the scene effectively, and it highlights the tremendous personal and legal risks which the author was prepared to undertaken to even get close to the Cosmodrome in question.
Once the author arrives on scene, the story becomes one of survival and evasion. With limited provisions and the omnipotent threat of being discovered by military security, the participants take up residence within the mummified remains of the Soviet space programme with the two remaining “Buran” shuttles; an “Energia” rocket, and acres of abandoned documents and machinery for company.
The author’s stay within the ruins is a fruitful one. The photography is stunning and deeply emotive. The sight of two abandoned, seemingly complete shuttles gathering dust inside a dilapidated construction facility, which is itself littered with relics from the Soviet Union, is both powerful and compelling, the author has effectively captured a tragedy waiting to happen, with no ongoing maintenance or protection, time is not on the side of the Buran or the last vestiges of the Soviet space programme.
From this point onwards, the book quickly becomes a work of urban reportage, with no section of the surviving buildings, or shuttles going unphotographed. The interior shots of the shuttles; the abandoned machine room, and the technical / drawing room are amongst the highlights that the reader can look forward to. This work really is a tour de force of urban exploration and photographic reportage and it is highly recommended as a result.
Baikonur – Vestiges of the Soviet Space Programme is a stunning work of both urban exploration and photo-journalism. The photographs are leaden with atmosphere, at times disbelieving, and at others melancholic, this work is an evocative celebration of what was the final triumphal gasp of the Soviet space programme and the technological prowess which underpinned it. If you are fan of abandoned spaces; urban exploration, or industrial archaeology, this is the book for you.