Their journey to the spaceport involved several days of travel through some spectacularly remote and hazardous terrain. Bordering the nations of Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, landlocked Kazakhstan is home to the Earth’s largest dry steppe region: the Kazakh Steppe, which covers one third of the country. Somewhere in this forbidding landscape, then, was the explorers’ destination.
The Kazakh Steppe is a vast, arid and inhospitable expanse of grasslands and savannas. But owing to the fact that the area is sparsely populated, it makes an ideal setting for a secret spaceport. Not only does the wide open terrain provide an abundance of hard-to-reach hiding places, but it is also perfect for the reception of radio communications from outer space.
The spaceport was, in fact, established by Soviet decree in 1955. Known as the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the site was actually the world’s very first space launch facility. And what’s more, measuring by 53 miles north-south by 56 miles east-west, the spaceport is an extremely large complex incorporating the world’s largest industrial railway and two airports.