Star City: The Secret Soviet Town Where Cosmonauts Once Trained
People today sometimes boast that they live “off the grid,” but chances are Google could find their town (or forest, or squalid camping site, or whatever) on a map. Things were different in midcentury Soviet Union, when the authorities developed hundreds of cities that were kept off official maps and deprived of official names. They were non-towns, No Such Places, Areas 51—part of a “constellation of ghost geography,” as Atlas Obscura puts it.
One of these secret Soviet towns was nicknamed Star City, also known as "Military Unit 26266 in closed townlet number one," according to Atlas Obscura. As Atlas co-founder Dylan Thuras explains in the new video above, Soviet authorities ordered the creation of Star City in 1960 as a training center for their cosmonaut program. Although the buildings looked drab, they housed what was once the world's top space program, which sent the first man, woman, and dog into space (not in that order).
Despite eventually hosting its own post office, movie theater, railway station, and schools, the town remained closed for decades. It wasn’t truly open to the public until 2008, according to Atlas Obscura, when control of the town was transferred from the Russian military to the civilian space agency Roscosmos. Today, the town welcomes visitors. For $90,000 per person, you can purchase a 10-day "Cosmonaut Overview Training" experience there, featuring the chance to wear a space suit, experience a centrifuge simulator and spacewalk simulator, and have dinner with a cosmonaut—perhaps one of the people who once lived in a place that wasn’t officially supposed to exist.