One of the signs accompanying the engine. It reads
Russia's Missile Row
Until July 1955, Tyuratam in Soviet Central Asia was a dusty cluster of
scorpion-infested huts close to a nearly abandoned rail line. Summer saw
sandstorms and temperatures above 110° F. Winter saw hurricane winds
and arctic cold. Russian dictators had exiled their enemies to Tyuratam since
long before the Communist Revolution. The Soviets had drilled for oil and gas
there, but found only salt water.
By mid-1956, Tyuratam was the site of an enormous pit excavated by an army of
military personnel and doomed prisoners. The pit, formed by removal of 1.3
million cubic yards of dirt, measured more than 150 feet deep. A network of
roads and rail lines grew to link the pit with cavernous assembly buildings and
sprawling rocket fuel tank farms. This was the enormous
launch pad infrastructure required for Korolev's R-7 rocket.
The Soviet military built their missile base deep in the Soviet Union's heart,
far from its borders, to make it relatively safe from U.S. attack. Despite
this, U.S. U-2 spy planes
photographed Tyuratam even as the 39,000 cubic yards of concrete in R-7 Pad 1
were drying. In a vain attempt to deceive the world, the Soviets named the
site for Baikonur, a town about 150 miles away. When R-7 rockets launched the
first Earth satellites
from the site, it became known around the world as the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Just as aerodrome is another word for airport, cosmodrome is another word for
Baikonur Cosmodrome was the equivalent of the U.S. missile proving ground at
Cape Canaveral, but on a much larger scale. In the 1950s, the Cape's "Missile
Row" was about 20 miles long, a barely noticeable coastal strip on the map of
Florida. Had it been as large as Baikonur, it would have nearly spanned the
Florida peninsula. Baikonur's central zone, including its launch pads,
amounted to 2600 square miles. In all, the Soviet spaceport included more than
40,000 square miles of land.