New church in once-atheist Baikonur readies for Orthodox Christmas.
For almost half a century, Russian rockets and space travelers have assaulted the heavens from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the Soviet spaceport in Central Asia that was portrayed as the shining symbol of a communist future. Now one of the last sights for departing space crews is the shiny domes of a new Russian Orthodox church -- where they have their own way of reaching toward heaven.
The city of the space workers was originally named "Leninsk" in honor of the founder of the Soviet state, a champion of the official atheism under which priests were imprisoned and churches were burned. Cosmonauts in the Soviet era were often quoted as joking, "We have been to heaven, and didn't see God there."
But in a radical cultural revolution, the collapse of the Soviet regime in 1991 unleashed a long-underground religious impulse even among the elite of Soviet society, "rocket scientists" and the military hierarchy.
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