AWE

Russian space launches are beautiful and spectacular

If you want to launch a human being into space these days, you have just two options: One is the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China. The other is Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome, the oldest and largest space launch facility.

Kazakhstan can’t get into space on its own, but the site is rented through 2050 by the Russian government. In 2012, it was host to 14 commercial satellite launches, and it’s also the only way to get a human-carrying spacecraft to or from the International Space Station. The site has an unbelievable amount of history: The first satellite, Sputnik, and the first human, Yuri Gagarin, were launched into space from there. Some of its facilities are beginning to show their age.

The environment at Baikonur is hard and arid, with temperatures ranging from -40°F (-40°C) in winter to 113°F (45°C) in summer. It’s a hard place, home to fantastic achievements, and—oh, who are we kidding, let’s get to the pictures.

A Russian police helicopter guards the Russia's booster rocket Soyuz-FG with the space capsule Soyuz TMA-11M that will carry new crew to the International Space Station (ISS) as the rocket is transported from hangar to the launch pad at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. The rocket is emblazoned with the emblem of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. For the first time, it will also carry an Olympic torch to space as part of the ongoing Olympic torch relay. The torch will be brought back along with the station's current crew. The rocket is scheduled to blast off on Thursday, Nov.7. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
On Nov. 7 2013, the torch for the Sochi Winter Olympics rode with astronauts aboard a Soyuz spacecraft destined for the International Space Station. But first, the spacecraft’s Soyuz-FG rocket booster had to be transported by train from a hangar to the launch site. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
Security monitors the Soyuz TMA-11M rocket as it is rolled out to the launch pad by train on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Launch of the Soyuz rocket is scheduled for November 7 and will send Expedition 38 Soyuz Commander Mikhail Tyurin of Roscosmos, Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio of NASA and Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency on a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station.  Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Security looks on as the Soyuz TMA-11M rocket is rolled onto its launchpad. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The Soyuz TMA-11M rocket, adorned with the logo of the Sochi Olympic Organizing Committee and other related artwork, is seen in this long exposure photograph, as the service structure arms are raised into position at the launch pad on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Launch of the Soyuz rocket is scheduled for November 7 and will send Expedition 38 Soyuz Commander Mikhail Tyurin of Roscosmos, Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio of NASA and Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency on a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station.  Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Launch pad arms are raised around the Soyuz TMA-11M rocket. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Cameramen film as the Soyuz-FG rocket booster with Soyuz TMA-11M space ship carrying new crew to the International Space Station, ISS, blasts off at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013. The rocket carrying the Olympic flame successfully blasted off Thursday from earth ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Games.(AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
The Soyuz-FG rocket booster is based on a 50s-era missile design and has never failed once in 42 launches. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
Photographers take pictures of the of launch of Soyuz-FG rocket booster with Soyuz TMA-09M space ship carrying a new crew to the International Space Station, ISS, as its blasts off at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, May 29, 2013. The Russian rocket carries U.S. astronaut Karen Nyberg, Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, and European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano.  (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)
It takes six hours for a Soyuz spacecraft to get from Baikonur to the International Space Station, which orbits 230 miles above earth. The crew on this particular mission will spend six months in space. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)
The Soyuz TMA-20 approaches the International Space Station. (NASA)
The Soyuz spacecraft with Expedition 36 Commander Pavel Vinogradov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineer Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos and Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy of NASA aboard, is seen as it lands in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. The Soyuz capsule carrying three astronauts has touched down on Earth after undocking from the International Space Station after 166 days in space.(AP Photo/Maxim Shipenkov, Pool)
The Soyuz descent module is miniscule by comparison with the US space shuttle, and is slowed by a pair of parachutes as it returns to earth. (AP Photo/Maxim Shipenkov)
Russian search and rescue helicopters are seen as they fly over Kazakhstan, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, from the city of Karaganda to Zhezkazgan a day ahead of the scheduled landing of the Soyuz TMA-08M spacecraft with Expedition 36 Commander Pavel Vinogradov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineer Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos and Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy. Vinogradov, Misurkin and Cassidy are returning to Earth after five and a half months on the International Space Station. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Russian search and rescue helicopters fly over Kazakhstan in order to meet the returning space capsule. (AP Photo/NASA)
A Russian Soyuz TMA-07M space capsule lands about 150 km (90 miles) south-east of the Kazakh town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, Tuesday, May 14, 2013. A Soyuz space capsule with a three-man crew returning from a five-month mission to the International Space Station landed safely Tuesday on the steppes of Kazakhstan. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel, Pool)
One meter above the ground, the Soyuz descent module fires thrusters to allow for a soft landing. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)
Search and rescue team approaches the Soyuz TMA-09M capsule with the International Space Station (ISS) crew of U.S. astronaut Karen Nyberg, Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano after its landing in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan in central Kazakhstan November 11, 2013.  REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov  (KAZAKHSTAN)
Search and rescue crews meet the descent module. (AP Photo/Shamil Zhumatov)
Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov waves from inside the Soyuz TMA-08M space capsule shortly after landing in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. The Soyuz capsule carrying three astronauts has touched down on Earth after undocking from the International Space Station after 166 days in space. (AP Photo/Maxim Shipenkov, Pool)
Like a beached whale, the Soyuz capsule lays on its side, its three occupants awaiting retrieval by a ground crew. (AP Photo/Maxim Shipenkov)
International Space Station (ISS) crew member Karen Nyberg of the United States smiles as she is carried by ground personnel after Soyuz TMA-09M capsule carrying the ISS crew of Nyberg, Fyodor Yurchikhin of Russia and Luca Parmitano of Italy landed in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan in central Kazakhstan Monday, Nov. 11, 2013. The Russian space capsule returned to Earth on Monday with the torch of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games from the ISS in a flawless landing on the steppes of Kazakhstan. (AP Photo/Shamil Zhumatov, Pool)
After months in space, visitors to the International Space Station, unaccustomed to gravity, must be carried away from the landing site. (AP Photo/Shamil Zhumatov)
International Space Station (ISS) crew member Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano reacts after Soyuz TMA-09M capsule carrying the ISS crew of Parmitano, Karen Nyberg of the United States and Fyodor Yurchikhin of Russia landed in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan in central Kazakhstan Monday, Nov. 11, 2013. The Russian space capsule returned to Earth on Monday with the torch of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games from the ISS in a flawless landing on the steppes of Kazakhstan. (AP Photo/Shamil Zhumatov, Pool)
Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano on return from the ISS: pale, exhausted, alive. (AP Photo/Shamil Zhumatov)
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