MIR’s 30 Years: Beyond the Stars, Inside the Russian Space Program (VIDEO)
(Douglas Grimes is co-founder and president of MIR Corporation.)
Of all the dozens of tours we offer to MIR’s 35 destinations, the one that I unabashedly like best is our behind-the-scenes Inside the Russian Space Program, which harkens back to the Cold War days of the U.S.-Soviet space race. I have personally led every departure of the program to Russia and Kazakhstan since first launching this trip in 2005. I’m old enough to remember the U.S.-Soviet space race, when it seemed every boy dreamed of being an astronaut, and when I spent a lot of time making model rockets, like the Saturn-V.
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It wasn’t easy or simple: it took three years of meeting the right people in Russia, and eventually making our way to once highly classified Star City hidden in a forest near Moscow, with its cosmonaut training facility named after Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. I remember the first time I was there, thinking to myself, “Oh boy – this used to be top secret!” It was very eye-opening. The first meeting with Russian space officials was a bit tough, like “Who are you? Why do you want to do this?” But then there was some warming up, and we made a connection. We also flew down to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Kazakh desert, seeing the facilities and watching a manned-Soyuz space launch.
- Rollout of the Rocket Ceremony: This is one of my favorite events. The massive hangar doors open for the early dawn rollout of the Russian rocket; we’re only a few yards away from these gigantic exhaust vents on the Soyuz. Later, the Soyuz crosses a road in the Kazakh desert – yet another up-close photo opportunity.
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- Raising of the Rocket Ceremony: The rocket is slowly raised into position at the launchpad. It takes time, it’s noisy, and it’s unforgettable.
- Cosmonauts’ Press Conference: We can ask burning questions of not just the main crew, but the backup crew as well. After the press conference, the cosmonauts depart to prepare for their final preparations, and to suit up.
- Cosmonauts’ Alley: Every cosmonaut who goes up in the Soyuz from Baikonur plants a tree along this alley. Of course, Yuri Gagarin’s tree from 1961 is the oldest, towering over tiny saplings of more recent cosmonauts.
- “Ready to Go” Report: Cosmonauts are fully suited up, walk out, and approach the Baikonur Cosmodrome director and Roscosmos space officials. They indicate they are “ready to go,” shake hands, and whisked away by bus to the launchpad – in the same manner of the U.S.S.R.’s first cosmonaut, Yuri Garagin.
Liftoff From VIP Viewing Area: In the U.S. you’re typically five or six miles away from the launchpad, but at Baikonur we have a VIP viewing area that’s about two miles away. It’s close enough to feel the earth shake beneath our feet – always thrilling.
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I’ve done zero gravity training twice, and it’s a lot of fun. We fly in a padded Ilyushin-76 up to 30,000 feet, where it stalls out at the top for about 35 seconds and we become weightless during that time. It pulls about 4Gs and you recover, and then it does another one, repeating this about 10 or 12 times over several hours.
It all fits in with MIR’s original ideology, with our name in Russian meaning both “world” and “peace.” For us at MIR, such friendships, travel, and exploration know no borders or boundaries – even into space.
More on “MIR’s 30 Years”
Learn more about “MIR’s 30 Years” in the stories below, all embedded with videos. They include MIR’s beginnings and the mindset and mission of MIR’s president and co-founder, Douglas Grimes; MIR’s utterly unique travel offerings at the crossroads of Europe and Asia; and Siberia, one of MIR’s favorites specialties.
- “Imagine Your Journey with MIR” (story); view video – MIR’s 30-year expertise in making dream trips come true.
- “198os Volleyball Diplomacy, and MIR’s Beginning” (story); view video – Volleyball is the game changer: a young Douglas Grimes dreams big, and his (MIR) world changes forever.
- “Back in the U.S.S.R.” (story); view video – Traveling back in time to MIR’s mid-1980s beginning, and a watershed decision.
MIR’s One-of-a-Kind Journeys
- “Handcrafted Journeys: Making MIR Movies” (story); view video – MIR’s memorable custom, private journeys are akin to making movies, including tracing family history “back in the old country.”
- “Epic Journeys: Ultimate Dream Trips” (story); view video – MIR’s adventurous overland expeditions include one Canadian couple’s extensive yearly travels, from driving along the Silk Road to motoring through China, Siberia, and the Balkans.
- “Beyond the Stars, Inside the Russian Space Program” (story); view video – MIR President Douglas Grimes’ favorite tour harkens back to the U.S.-Soviet space race, from exploring Star City’s once-classified cosmonaut training facility to witnessing the manned launch of a Soyuz spacecraft.
- “Overland Expeditions: Roving the World in Land Rovers” (story); view Land Rovers video – Land-roving at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, MIR creates an ambitious itinerary for 54 participants and 18 vehicles, from Kazakhstan to Turkey.
Siberia, A MIR Specialty
- “Why I’m Sold on Siberia” (story); view video – Countless reasons why MIR President Douglas Grimes loves this vast, pristine place.
- “Siberia’s Beauty of Lake Baikal” (story); view video – MIR President Douglas Grimes’ lasting memories of this legendary lake in Siberia.
- “Overland Expeditions: Channeling Siberia and Beyond” (story); view video – One of MIR President Douglas Grimes’ early (ad)ventures into Siberia with one channeler, her five dozen followers, and their six sacred crystals.
- “Overland Expeditions: Driving Siberia and Beyond” (story); view video – MIR helps intrepid motorists re-create the 1908 automotive Great Race in their 1928 vintage car, down to gas station locations in Siberia and tricky border crossings.
- “Overland Expeditions: Running Through Russia and Beyond” (story); view video – MIR’s extraordinary logistics for 79 runners and support personnel, running 5,500 miles from Eastern Europe to China via Russia and Siberia, all to promote safer drinking water.
- “Overland Expeditions: Total Solar Eclipse in Siberia” (story); view video – MIR prepares three years in advance to bring more than 300 travelers – “sun chasers” – to the heart of Siberia for a rare total solar eclipse.
MIR, in a Nutshell
- “MIR in a Nutshell” (story) – Compact and concise, here’s everything you need to know about MIR on one page.
(Top photo: Soyuz liftoff from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Photo credit: Don Cohen)
PUBLISHED: November 28, 2016