Secretive space capital Samara opens its doors as World Cup rolls into town

Samara formed the silent hub of the Soviet Union's bid to win the Space Race.The city's museum offers a rare insight into that world.

Samara Space Museum   -  Getty Images

Secrecy is deeply ingrained in the Samara people due to their historic links to the space industry, but the arrival of the World Cup has encouraged the city to open its doors to all-comers.

During the 20th century, Samara acted as the primary manufacturing hub as the Soviet Union desperately fought to get one over on their American counterparts in the Space Race.

It was ultimately the Soviets who prevailed - Yuri Gagarin completing an orbit of the Earth on April 12, 1961.

The USA did strike a blow in return eight years later, of course, as Neil Armstrong took one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind by becoming the first human being to set foot on the moon.

Almost half a century on, the two countries still seek superiority in that field, but a visit to Samara's Space Museum offers a glimpse that would have been deemed unthinkable from behind the Iron Curtain.

Easily identifiable by the huge model rocket situated outside, the museum features several exhibits of satellites and space suits, as well as rare photographs from Samara's traditionally secretive factories.

With the FIFA bandwagon and its all-encompassing entourage rolling into town, the Samara people have been nothing other than friendly and welcoming, but museum director Helen Kuzina says the city's residents are traditionally very guarded.

"The entire theme of spaceship building is very important for the city, because of all of the secrecy and restrictions on the family of the people involved," she told Omnisport.

"They couldn't just come home and tell everyone about it, so after they built the museum they could take their family and with tears in their eyes say 'this is what I was involved in'.

"So it's extremely important for all the people here. You can still see here the secrecy of the Samara people, they're not always open to tell about everything because the secrecy of the space industry is still deep inside our souls."

The brand new Samara Arena, situated a 30-minute drive outside the centre, was built with the city's links to the space industry firmly in mind and looks like a huge UFO.

Krylia Sovetov, who won promotion back to the Russian Premier League last season, will make the permanent switch from their Metallurg Stadium to the shiny new venue for 2018-19. And the club, whose name translates to 'Wings of the Soviets', shares a significant date with Gagarin and his historic exploits.

"You can see the club was founded in 1942 on April 12 and everyone knows Yuri Gagarin went into space on April 12, but 19 years later, so they are linked," director Kuzina added.

"The people who built the stadium were inspired by the city and spaceship building.

"Also, when you're in the airport you can look at the building and you can realise some of the inspiration comes from the museum, so take a look at that next time you're at the airport!"

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