Space Race Is Over, But Russian Launching Pad Still Booms
"Rockets still pierce the heavens in a halo of smoke during launches, and engineers and military men still crack open bottles of vodka to celebrate a successful launch. What has changed are the passengers. Nowadays Baikonur embraces the world, from wealthy space tourists to the world's first Malaysian cosmonaut, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, who blasted off for the international space station on Oct. 10."
"The city itself is a rusting relic of the golden age of Russian rocketry, yet if anything, its place in the space industry is heading toward expansion. For at least four years after the space shuttle program ends in 2010, the U.S. will completely depend on Russia - and Baikonur - to send its crews to the international space station."
"As Russia's economy has recovered and oil prices swell, Moscow has begun spending on Baikonur again. The city also benefits from Russia's booming trade in commercial satellite launches and space tourism. In April, Charles Simonyi, the U.S. billionaire who helped design Microsoft Word and Excel, became the world's fifth such tourist, spending $25 million to visit the space station."
"So despite its Soviet character - or perhaps partly because of it - Baikonur remains a magnet for Russians and Kazakhs looking for a decent job."