Inside a Once-Secret Cosmonaut Training Facility

Atlas Obscura
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July 8 2014 8:52 AM

Inside a Once-Secret Cosmonaut Training Facility

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During the development of the Soviet space program, a secret Air Force facility in the woods northeast of Moscow transformed into a cosmonaut training center and residential settlement called Zvezdny Gorodok, or Star City. Omitted from the era's maps, and referred to officially as "closed military townlet number one," the area centered on the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, where prospective cosmonauts would undergo strenuous physical, technical, and psychological preparation for space flight.

Following the dissolution of the USSR, the curtain of secrecy was lifted, and the training center opened its doors to the public. Today, a handful of companies offer special tours of the facility, during which visitors can wear a mock spacesuit, take a ride in the centrifuge, or board a "zero-gravity" flight that simulates weightlessness through a parabolic trajectory. The on-site museum of space travel and exploration contains an impressive collection of vintage spacesuits and capsules charred from when they reentered the atmosphere.

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Cosmonauts still use Star City to prepare for flights. The training center has full-sized mock-ups of Soyuz spacecraft and Russia's segment of the ISS, as well as a 40-foot-deep pool used for practising maintenance tasks in simulated weightlessness. Star City is also a hangout for seasoned space travelers: when cosmonauts return from their missions, they come to Star City to undergo medical tests and rehabilitation.

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The Neutral Buoyancy Trainer.

Photo: Christopher Michel/Creative Commons

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Inside the now-retired MIR training module.

Photo: Christopher Michel/Creative Commons

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Getting into an Orlan space suit.

Photo: Christopher Michel/Creative Commons

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Taking a walk in in an Orlan space suit.

Photo: Christopher Michel/Creative Commons

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Inside the ISS training module.

Photo: Christopher Michel/Creative Commons