Kazakhstan unrest not affecting Baikonur Cosmodrome spaceport, Russia says

Russia's Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft, specially decorated to be filmed for a movie, launches for the International Space Station from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Oct. 5, 2021.
Russia's Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft, specially decorated to be filmed for a movie, launches for the International Space Station from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Oct. 5, 2021. (Image credit: Roscosmos TV)

The current chaos in Kazakhstan isn't seriously impacting the famous spaceport in the nation, Russian officials say.

Spiking fuel prices spurred a wave of protests recently across Kazakhstan, an autocratic Central Asian nation that was once part of the Soviet Union. Some of those protests have turned violent, resulting in the deaths of dozens of anti-government demonstrators, according to The New York Times.

But Baikonur Cosmodrome — the spaceport that was established in southern Kazakhstan by the Soviet Union in 1955 and remains the jumping-off point for all crewed Russian space missions — has remained largely unaffected by the unrest, according to Roscosmos, Russia's federal space agency.

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"The situation in Baikonur is normal; all the law enforcement agencies are routinely working," the Roscosmos Press Service told Space.com via email. "The head of Baikonur administration, Konstantin Busygin, regularly reports on the situation around Baikonur to Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin."

NASA astronauts are fairly regular visitors to Baikonur; they've launched toward the International Space Station (ISS) aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft from the site many times over the years. 

Indeed, the Soyuz was the only ride to orbit available to astronauts for nearly a decade after NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011. That changed in 2020, when SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule began flying missions to the ISS from Florida. (Aerospace giant Boeing is also working to get its own astronaut taxi, the CST-100 Starliner, up and running soon.)

But no NASA personnel or assets are currently at Baikonur, so the agency isn't directly affected by the current situation in Kazakhstan, agency spokesperson Dan Huot told Space.com via email. 

What's happening in Kazakhstan matters in the bigger picture, of course, and on a number of levels, from the humanitarian to the political. 

"The latest demonstrations matter because the country has been regarded until now as a pillar of political and economic stability in an unstable region, even as that stability has come at the price of a repressive government that stifles dissent," The New York Times wrote. "The protests are also significant as Kazakhstan has been aligned with Russia, whose president, Vladimir V. Putin, views the country — a body double of sorts for Russia in terms of its economic and political systems — as part of Russia's sphere of influence."

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.