In May 1946, the rocket and missile testing site Kapustin Yar opened in southern Russia, providing a place for the Soviet Union to test fledgling rockets and nuclear missiles. It would go on to become a key site for Russian aerospace research. The town of around 33,000 people, now known as Znamensk, is still a military base closed to the rest of the world (and thanks to its secretive technological testing, home to many an alleged UFO sighting).

In honor of the research site’s 70th birthday, Russia has declassified some of the images from the earliest days of its space program, as Gizmodo reports, releasing photography of early rockets and tests.


The Soviet Union’s first major ballistic missile was launched for the first time in 1947.


The first Soviet rocket system for studying weather, MR-1, was launched dozens of times at Kapustin Yar between 1952 and 1959.


In August 1958, Soviet scientists launched a dog named Motley on a R-5A rocket. This was taken after the dog returned to Earth safely (although breathing heavily, according to reports from that day). Just a year before, Laika became the first animal to orbit the Earth.


The R-5M missile system was the first Soviet rocket capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

While these photos don't seem particularly juicy as classified documents go, they provide a visual record of what some of the earliest incarnations of Russia's space program looked like. For years, Kapustin Yar was the Soviet Union's only public launch site known to the West, while the Baikonur Cosmodrome remained top secret long past its 1955 opening.

[h/t Gizmodo]

All images courtesy the Russian Ministry of Defense