70-year-old Alexander Tsiunchik who lives in the village of Gorozhanka, Ramonsky District, served at the Baikonur Cosmodrome for many years, participated in the preparation of launches of the Tsyklon launch vehicle and the Buran reusable spacecraft, as well as the Energia launch vehicle. Alexander Nikolaevich told the RIA Voronezh correspondent the story of his fascinating life and what he had received a rare medal for.

Space instead of rails

It is only 300 meters from the pensioner Tsiunchik's house to the bank of the Don. But the water element attracts the owner much less than the air element, or rather the space one to which he has devoted 32 years.

Alexander Nikolaevich is a native of the Amur Region. At first, he planned to follow in the footsteps of his father whom he lost early - to become a railroad worker after finishing school. But after the tenth grade, he applied to the Blagoveshchensk Tank School. However, in the end, he did not go there either: a graduate of the Khabarovsk Command and Technical School came to his school for the presentation of graduation certificates and spoke so interestingly about studying at this institution that Alexander changed his mind and went to enter it. He chose the electrical technician specialty.

Alexander is on the far left

‘In 1971 I graduated from college and was sent to serve as a technician in a missile brigade in Zhitomir-21. People like me were called "tadpoles" in the troops: we were responsible for the warhead of a thermonuclear missile. I served in Zhitomir until 1976 and then entered the Mozhaisky Military Space Academy. I wanted to become an engineer and, after all, it was time to seriously think about career growth. In 1980, I graduated from the academy with the rank of captain and went to serve as an engineer in Kazakhstan, to the Baikonur Cosmodrome, where I was offered the position of the head of the team for preparing for launches of the Tsyklon launch vehicle,’ Alexander Tsiunchik recalled.

Space warfare

The archive of retired lieutenant colonel Tsiunchik contains a lot of photographs and several awards.

The rarest among them is the Space Warfare Participant Medal he received for his participation in the so-called Falklands War between England and Argentina, which broke out in the summer of 1982 over two British territories in the South Atlantic - the Falkland Islands and the South Sandwich Islands.

‘The reconnaissance satellites we launched at the time could "see" the sea 200 meters deep. The data received from a Soviet satellite helped transmit important information to one of the parties in the conflict. At the time, we prepared rockets for launching within three days though it usually took 30.’

Buran is a reusable space system that delivered various satellites into near-earth orbit - military, meteorological, transmitting radio and television signals, and others.

‘As a person who was involved in some space programs of the USSR, I will say that Soviet rocketry in those years was the most reliable in the world,’ says Alexander Tsiunchik. ‘But one day it almost killed us. During the test of one of the rockets, people had to be removed from the launch site by 6 km, and we - several military men - remained in the barracks located 3 km from the launch site. Suddenly came a powerful blow and a shout from the orderly: ‘It fell!’ It turned out that the rocket fell directly on to the ground - a crater with a 20-meter radius and five-meter depth was formed. The wave did not reach us, but the gates at the entrance to the barracks were badly crumpled.’

Sky of stars

Alexander Nikolaevich had a chance to participate in several launches of the Energia launch vehicle. Its flight itself lasted about ten minutes. During this time, the launch vehicle rose to an altitude of 80 km, and Tsiunchik's group had to take readings of its main equipment after landing.

‘The launch vehicle was supposed to land near the city of Jezkazgan. Brought by a helicopter to the place of the alleged fall, we waited. First we saw the first block fall, then the second and the third. We were interested namely in the fourth one, but for some reason it did wasn’t there although it should have landed according to all calculations. Finally, we saw it fall, there turned out to be a small problem. We felt a load lifted from our hearts. In total, we had to collect 28 so-called black boxes so that later, already in a laboratory at Baikonur, we could take all the necessary flight indicators. This type of work was my daily service at the main cosmodrome of the USSR.’

Alexander Nikolayevich worked like this from 1980 to 1995, and after retirement and until 2003, he worked there, at Baikonur, as a civil engineer at a space technology repair plant. He was the head of a workshop of colossal size: 200 m in length, 100 m in width and height of about an 11-storey building. The parts from which the rocket was assembled within 30 days were brought to this territory in railway cars.

Alexander is the third from the right (standing)

‘I also participated in joint Russian-American projects,’ Tsiunchik recalled. ‘Those were good years, our space industry could then compete with the American one, but now we are lagging behind...’

In 2003, Alexander Tsiunchik came from Baikonur to the banks of the Don where his sister had previously settled. Now his main hobby is gardening and growing seedlings of tomatoes and cucumbers, for which people come to Gorozhanka not only from Ramonsky District but also from the neighboring Lipetsk Region.

‘Sometimes at dusk I go to the bank of the Don, I look at the starry sky and think that recently I was related to various aircraft that human thought had lifted over our shared home - the Earth,’ Tsiunchik said poetically.