Exclusive tour lets you go inside the Russian Space Program


Exclusive tour lets you go inside the Russian Space Program


If you missed your chance to sign up for Space Camp or just want a closer look at the Russian approach to space exploration, an exclusive tour inside the Russian Space Program this fall may be for you. Operated by the Mir Corporation (no relation to the former Russian Space Station), Inside the Russian Space Program will give you a near-space experience with opportunities to see a manned Soyuz launch and tour a mock-up of the International Space Station (ISS), among other activities that are far beyond the reach of most travelers.The 10-day, $14,000 tour scheduled for October 9-18, 2012, is led by Dr. Steven Lee of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and provides exclusive access and insight into Roscosmos, Russia’s Space Program. Sandwiched between tours of Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center and Mission Control in Moscow, the tour will include a trip to Baikonur, Kazakhstan, where participants can get behind-the-scene glimpses of the manned Soyuz rocket launch to the International Space Station. For an extra fee, travelers can sign up to attend Cosmonaut training, which includes a familiarization ride on the world’s largest centrifuge, a zero gravity flight, and a chance to wear a Russian Orlan space suit.

Although this is very much a 21st century tour, some of the activities on the itinerary can’t help but hearken back to the days of the Soviet Space Program, thereby making this a fascinating tour for Cold War history buffs. To wit, there are excursions to the Star City Museum, which has a reproduction of Yuri Gagarin’s office among other rockets, satellites, space capsules, and simulators; the Cold War Museum Bunker; the Gagarin Start, the original launchpad from which the Sputnik missions launched; and the Novodevichy Convent and Cemetery, where famous Russians, such as Chekhov and Khrushchev, as well as a number of cosmonauts are buried.

Summer trips for Star Wars fans

There are several Star Wars-themed events in Alabama and Florida that should be worth the trip, so you won’t have to crash on Dagobah or invade Naboo to feel the Force this summer.

Star Wars Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida
Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from May 21 through June 13

This annual festival attracts Star Wars fans of all ages to Walt Disney World. There are meet-and-greets with a number of Star Wars characters, including Darth Vader, C-3PO, Luke, Leia and Jedi Mickey, who will sign autographs and pose for photos. Stars of the movies and TV series in the Star Wars franchise appear each weekend for “star conversations” and autograph sessions. This year’s guests include Temuera Morrison (Jango Fett) May 21-23 and Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian) June 4-6.

Most of the action is centered around the Star Tours theme park ride inside Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The ride will be closing in September for an update, so many Star Wars fans are attending Star Wars Weekends this year to get their last ride on the original attraction before it changes.

There’s also a Hollywood-style motorcade of Star Wars characters and celebrity guests each afternoon, complete with contingents of marching Stormtroopers. And don’t miss the Hyperspace Hoopla, which often degenerates into a Star Wars character dance-off.

Star Wars Weekends are free with regular admission to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. A one-day ticket will run you $79.


Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination
U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
June 25 through Sept. 6

It’s the first Southeast U.S. showing for this traveling exhibit, which uses the futuristic robots and vehicles in the Star Wars movies to teach real-world science and engineering.

Visitors can meet C-3PO and R2-D2 and learn about how humans interact with robots in Star Wars. Then they can design their own robot in the Robot Engineering Lab. Or view a Star Wars landspeeder and actual vehicles and prototypes being designed today for space travel. In total, more than 80 original costumes and props from the six Star Wars movies are part of the exhibition.

More than 100,000 people are expected to visit the exhibit in Huntsville, and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center says it will likely be sold out during peak times. Officials there suggest you buy your Star Wars exhibition tickets in advance. Day tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for kids, evening (off-peak) tickets are discounted to $20 for adults and $15 for kids.

And if you have Star Wars fans ages 7 through 12, be sure to check out the Jedi Experience overnight camps being offered at Huntsville’s Space Camp facility.

Star Wars Celebration V
Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida
Aug. 12-15

This Star Wars fan convention is sanctioned by and this year, produced by, Lucasfilm. It includes parties, autograph signings, costume events, collectible sales, panel discussions and all manner of Star Wars geekdom.

Jay Laga’aia (Capt. Typho in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith) is the celebrity host for the event. Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) is the headliner.

A four-day ticket to the Star Wars Celebration will run you $128, kids get in for $54.