Baikonur is famous worldwide for its cosmodrome, the site of many spacefaring feats including the first operational ICBM, the launch of Sputnik and the launch of the first manned orbital flight by Yuri Gagarin. The modern town of Baikonur was built near the existing village of Toretam (Төретам), the name still used by the railway station, and was known as Leninsk (Ле́нинск) until renamed in 1995 by then-president of Russia, Boris Yeltsin.
The cosmodrome is rented by Russia with a contract extension until 2050 signed in 2005. Russia and Kazakhstan are both unhappy with the USD 115,000,000 yearly rent and thus Russia is building another spaceport on Russian territory to be less dependent on Kazakhstan. The replacement spaceport has already had its first launch in 2016 and was planned to be fully operational by 2018, taking over most launches now handled in Baikonur through the 2020s.
Baikonur was a closed city during the Soviet era, and remains one today. However, unlike during the Soviet era, it is now possible to visit on a guided tour.
Baikonur is officially a "closed city", but unlike the Cold War era, it is possible to get in, you'll just need more than a regular Kazakh visa. The easiest way to get a permit and in fact the route most visitors chose is to book a tour with a tour operator of the cosmodrome and have them take care of the permits
The easiest way to visit Baikonur, and the only way to visit the cosmodrome, is by guided tour. Prices vary wildly but are always steep: a one-day tour starting from Almaty starts from US$700 per person, while a multi-day excursion from Moscow can cost US$5,000. As the cosmodrome area (6,000 km2) is rented by Russia, no Kazakh visa is needed if you fly in directly from Moscow.
Baikonur's two airports, Krainiy (in city) and Yubileyniy (in cosmodrome) serve only semi-regular chartered flights from Almaty and Moscow. The nearest town with scheduled service is Kzyl-Orda (267 km away), which has scheduled daily flights to Almaty and Astana on Air Astana.
Baikonur's station, Toretam, is on the Moscow-Almaty main line. The station is 1445 km from Almaty and the trip takes around 27 hours on an express train.
- 1 Baikonur Cosmodrome. A lot of Russia's space exploration missions were launched from here. Permits are necessary and must be arranged at least 45 days in advance; the only practical way of doing this is through a specialist travel agency. Visits during space launches are particularly popular, but scheduling is subject to unpredictable delays.
- Baikonur Cosmodrome Museum