Insights into St Petersburg

Lvov Buses for Cosmonauts

Work on the bus to transport cosmonauts to the launch pad began in the autumn of 1960, when a customer delegation from Lvov Bus Factory came to the factory. Among the guests there were not only representatives of the Research Institute test site, which became known as the Baikonur cosmodrome, but also, which was normal for those times, KGB officers. Nobody knew then what the bus for cosmonauts was supposed to look like, so much of the design work on the first ‘space bus’ was done by intuition.

At that time, the plant produced 20 to 40 buses a day. One of the buses – the LAZ-695B - was taken as a model. The running gear remained standard, but underwent several careful checks. Also high-quality corrosion-resistant coating was added. A special chair for cosmonauts was designed and constructed at the factory as well. It turned out to be of a considerable size, because it was designed for a passenger in a spacesuit. Seats for doctors and professionals accompanying astronauts were also installed. Obviously, the bus was equipped with a radio, a telephone, ventilators, and film equipment. Particular attention was paid to extra impermeability of the cabin, as it was believed that contamination of the earth's dust may cause some troubles during the flight. Moscow experts packed the bus with medical and other special equipment.

Interestingly, that bus saw the start of a very unusual space tradition. On 12 April 1961, Yuri Gagarin dressed in a spacesuit was sitting in the bus on his way to the launch pad when suddenly, a few hundred meters before the launch complex, Gagarin felt the need to urinate. The cosmonaut got off the bus, unbuttoned his suit and relieved himself on the right rear wheel of the LAZ. Since then, at the same place all male astronauts do the same thing at the same wheel of the bus.

“The tradition was long-standing one in aviation. Even in the Great Patriotic War, when they had to fly somewhere far away before getting into the cockpit the pilots urinated on the wheel... Well, do you visit bathroom before going to bed? It’s the same way we do knowing that for a long time we won’t be able to do it.”
From an interview with cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev

“The tradition really came from Gagarin. And it has been observed, although the suit is checked for leaks in a special room and you are not allowed to remove gloves, because then you can fasten them wrong… The only exception is for women.”
From an interview with cosmonaut Valery Polyakov

The first bus served at Baikonur until 1967. It was replaced when the cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov died. Cosmonauts, like sailors, are superstitious people. They asked for a new bus then. It was almost identical to the first one, but was built on the basis of the model LAZ-695E.

In 1984, the very first "space bus" was found in Moscow and delivered to Lvov. It was restored and used as a museum exhibit at the All-Union Experimental Design Institute of Bus Production. In 1989, it was transferred to the Joint Memorial Museum of Yuri Gagarin, in the home town of the first cosmonaut, where the bus was restored once again.

In 1973, just before the joint space mission with U.S. astronauts as part of the programme Soyuz-Apollo, famous "space buses" LAZ-699P were built in Lvov on the basis of intercity bus prototypes LAZ-699N Ukraina.

There was another reason for the construction of a new generation of buses for cosmonauts: after the death of the Soviet space crew in the descent module in 1971 requirements for the protective suit dramatically increased, and cosmonauts dressed in modified suits needed special transport.

By 1973, a research institute of bus design had been established at the factory, which developed new buses. The buses had a completely hermetic interior with double glazing and air conditioning. The entrance in the middle of the bus was equipped with an airlock for dust extraction, which collected dust from spacesuits like a vacuum cleaner. Special seats for cosmonauts were installed in the cabin.

Thanks to numerous live broadcasts of space launches from Baikonur these unusual buses became well remembered and eventually became one of the symbols of the Soviet manned space flight. Currently at Baikonur there is only one working specimen of the LAZ-699P left.

In the late 70s, the All-Union Institute of Design and Experimental Bus Construction in Lvov developed a new family of tourist buses LAZ-5255 Karpaty (‘Carpathians’). In 1980, one of the LAZ-5255 prototypes was prepared to accompany a convoy carrying the Olympic flame, and in 1984, after the test, another prototype was transferred to Baikonur. The Karpaty did not enter serial production, but in the second half of the 80s two special LAZ-5255 buses were built for Baikonur. There they were named Zvezdny and Baikonur.

Thus, from the 1960s to the present time the Lvov Bus Factory has been a major producer of specialized buses serving the Yuri A. Gagarin State Scientific Research-and-Testing Cosmonaut Training Center and the Baikonur cosmodrome.