Want to watch how cosmonauts hop into space shuttles and head towards the International Space Station (ISS) from a distance of 2 to 4 km from the launch pad?

It is possible as the next manned mission is scheduled on April 9 this year from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in southern Kazakhstan.

A Guwahati-based company, the AXCAPE Tours & Travels (AT&T) is the first and only tour operating company outside Russia and Kazakhstan, accredited to arrange visits for tourists to Russian Space Complexes.

The facility at Baikonur is the biggest space complex of the world. The last manned mission was successfully launched on September 25 last year from the complex.

The spaceport is leased by the Kazakh Government to Russia until 2050, and is managed jointly by the Roscosmos State Corporation and the Russian Aerospace Forces.

It is the only Cosmodrome in the world that performs manned missions to International Space Station.

Students from the northeast, who are interested in space shuttles, can now easily watch the launch at Baikonur Cosmodrome at a reasonable cost.

We believe considering the rich history of Russian Space program, Baikonur Cosmodrome will emerge as one of most popular tourist destination,” Vickram Maitei, CEO of AT&T, said.   

Vickram Maitei, an alumnus of Rashtriya Military School, Bangalore, said with support from Russian Space agencies, his company now shoulders the responsibility to promote Baikonur Cosmodrome around the world.

The CEO of the company has long association with Russia, and heads the Engineering Division of a Moscow-based LNG company.

Vickram, a Mechanical Engineering from Bangalore University, worked in various national and international Oil and Gas companies.

He also worked with the design and set up teams for 13 oil refineries across the globe, including in Iraq and Algeria.

As an official of the Engineers India Limited, Vickram was part of the team, which had designed the Numaligarh Refinery Limited in Upper Assam.

Excursion to NASA (Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex) was opened in 1963, and has become extremely popular tourist destination amongst students in India.

“The Russian Space agencies started allowing tourists in their complexes in 2015, and is slowly getting popular as a tourist destination,” Vickram said.

More than 2,500 tourists visited the Baikonur Cosmodrome in 2019, while the Gagarin Cosmanaut Training Center (GCTC) registered footfall of more than 6,000 tourists.

“There has been no manned mission at NASA since 2011, and launch witnessed from distance from 13 to 20 km from the launch pad,” he said.

The CEO of AT&T said there are various types of packages, depending on hotel categories, total number of days, and size of tour group and tourist age.

Booking for excursion and educational tour to Biakonur Cosmodrome and Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre at Moscow are now open. Anyone interested to book tour, can reach holidays@axcape.com

In addition to India, AT&T, at present, is focusing on tourists from Australia, Singapore, UAE and the UK.

“With support from Russian Space agencies, we were able to secure special package for students,” Vickram said.

For Indian tourists, there always an added attraction to visit Biakonur Cosmodrome and Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre, the CEO said.

“Indian’s first cosmonaut Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma on April 2, 1984 had taken off aboard Soyuz T-11, launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome,” Vickram said.

Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma had undergone training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre (GCTC) before the space mission.

Even Yuri Gagarin, the first man on space, had taken off from the spaceport.

At present, four Indian Air force (IAF) pilots are been trained in GCTC, who are expected to travel to space in 2022.

SPUTNIK-1 was the first ever artificial satellite to orbit the earth, and was launched in October 1957 from Baikonur Cosmodrome.

The first human in space and to orbit the Earth, Yuri Gagarin, in 1961, and Vostok was the first spacecraft to carry cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov, the first person to perform an EVA (spacewalk), in 1965.

Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman to fly in space, aboard Vostok 6 on June 16, 1963.

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Anirban Roy

Anirban Roy is Editor-in-Chief of Northeast Now. He can be reached at: editor@nenow.in