Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
On the almost featureless expanses of the semidesert grasslands of Kazakhstan, crew members aboard the International Space Station (ISS) usually follow the long line of the Syr Darya River as the main visual cue to find the spaceport from which they launch--a favorite topic for space-based photographers. A major bend in the river shows where the town of Baikonur lies, home to the Cosmodrome, what has been termed the world's first and largest space launch facility. Baikonur (at image center) is well known to astronauts and cosmonauts alike. They arrive at the small airstrip from their homes (at image left) in many parts of the world. (For scale, the airstrip is 3.4 km (2.1 miles) long.)
The smaller straight road going north from Baikonur takes the astronauts and cosmonauts to the launching area (top margin of the image). This is the last section of travel for the crews before they launch into space en route to the Internal Space Station. The most recent crew members to travel this route were Kate Rubins (USA), Anatoly Ivanishin (Russia) and Takuya Onishi (Japan). They arrived a few days ago (11th July) for their months-long stay in the ISS. At the end of their flights crews return to Earth, landing on these same almost featureless plains in a capsule assisted by parachute.
The railroad that crosses the view in a series of straight lines brings rocket parts to Baikonur from Russia. The highway between Orenburg in Russia and Tashkent in neighboring Uzbekistan follows a roughly parallel route. The dark areas (at image lower left) are wetlands that indicate the old bed of the Syr Darya at the point where the river used to flow in a more southerly course to the Aral Sea, 200 km (120 miles) to the west. The semidesert in the Baikonur region displays a patchy landscape of irregular vegetation-free scalds, dry lakes, sand dunes and bare rock.