Shamil's Feed
Oct 8, 2014
via Photographers' Blog

Space travel and sandwich wrappers

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Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan

By Shamil Zhumatov

As a great photographer once put it, “to take a good picture, come closer to the object.” But how on earth could I take a close-up shot of a Soyuz rocket as it blast off amid orange flames? Especially when, to comply with safety requirements, I was in a photography position over a kilometer away from the rocket.

The answer was to leave a remote camera at the launch pad. This led to the second question, due to technical issues photographers can’t control the remote cameras they leave at the launch pad.  So how would I trigger my camera?

Nov 12, 2013
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A torch in space

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Zhezkazgan, central Kazakhstan

By Shamil Zhumatov

PART ONE: LAUNCH

During more than a decade of covering Russia’s space exploration program, I have seen pretty unusual missions. I have taken pictures of an investor heading for the International Space Station, as well as those of a clown and programmers flying into orbit. But the most recent space launch and landing have probably become the most unforgettable – the torch of the forthcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia’s Sochi reached space and then returned to Earth. Now, as I play back this hectic flurry of events, it is still hard to believe how closely these two things are entwined – the Olympics and space. The Olympic Games had been aimed by the authorities to strengthen Russia’s image. Given this ambitious task set by Moscow, Russia’s space program – a symbol of national pride, albeit marred by several botched unmanned launches – simply couldn’t stand aloof. Space was doomed to become part of this bright political show.

A few months earlier, when I learnt about the future mission of the torch, the only question that haunted my friends was – how will it burn in space? Their avid interest was heated by the torch itself, whose flame had gone out several times since the Olympic relay across Russia began last month. One of my colleagues even joked that while in space the torch would need “a man with a lighter”, recalling the image of a resourceful plainclothes security agent who saved the day, reigniting the torch with a cigarette lighter when the flame went out right at the start of the relay in the Kremlin on October 6. But as the launch date of November 7 drew nearer, there was a general sigh of relief – the torch would not be lit aboard the space station for safety reasons, and it simply would not be able to burn in outer space due to the laws of nature.

Nov 11, 2013

International space crew return Olympic torch to Earth

NEAR ZHEZKAZGAN, Kazakhstan (Reuters) – A Russian spacecraft brought three astronauts and the Olympic torch back to Earth on Monday after the torch was taken on its first spacewalk in the run-up to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

Russia’s Fyodor Yurchikhin beamed as he held up the silver-and-grey torch alongside American Karen Nyberg and Italian Luca Parmitano on the Kazakh steppe after returning from the International Space Station after a 166-day mission.

Nov 11, 2013

Olympics-International space crew return Olympic torch to Earth

NEAR ZHEZKAZGAN, Kazakhstan, Nov 11 (Reuters) – A Russian spacecraft brought three astronauts and the Olympic torch back to Earth on Monday after the torch was taken on its first spacewalk in the run-up to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

Russia’s Fyodor Yurchikhin beamed as he held up the silver-and-grey torch alongside American Karen Nyberg and Italian Luca Parmitano on the Kazakh steppe after returning from the International Space Station after a 166-day mission.

Apr 3, 2013
via Photographers' Blog

Don’t rush for gold

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Tien Shan mountains, Kyrgyzstan

By Shamil Zhumatov

“Don’t run! Slow down! Just don’t run!” I repeated this non-stop to myself like an incantation. Indeed, it is hard even to pace quickly – let alone run — when you have to breathe in the rarefied air and wear a supplied protective helmet and brand-new rigid boots with steel toes.

I also had to look out for giant trucks the size of three-story houses chugging around. It was difficult to keep my emotions under control during the few hours on this tight assignment. I was at an altitude of over 4,000 meters above sea level near the Chinese border, inside a huge open-pit gold mine at Kumtor, Kyrgyzstan’s largest gold asset, operated by Toronto-based Centerra Gold. Gigantic trucks and excavators worked non-stop in the snow-clad pit, looking like characters from a fantasy movie. As if playing a computer game, an excavator operator elegantly manipulated small joysticks – just five scoops full of ore, and almost 200 tones were loaded into a truck in about one minute.

Mar 6, 2012
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Kazakhstan’s lone female eagle hunter

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By Shamil Zhumatov

Ahead of International Women’s Day, Reuters decided to prepare a feature story about an unusual woman. We filmed Makpal Abdrazakova, apparently the only female golden eagle hunter in Kazakhstan. I’ve known Makpal for many years through a variety of hunting competitions. I called her home in the village of Aksu-Ayuly, central Kazakhstan, and we quickly agreed to a photo shoot within the next few days, as she had to leave to participate in a regional festival in the south of the country.

A heavy snowstorm blanketed our path. Kazakh authorities often shut down inter-city roads during harsh weather, as on this occasion. Our time frame was shrinking. As soon as the travel ban was lifted, we hit the road. After a quick night drive across Almaty, we turned north. The GPS kindly announced: “Keep driving for the next 500 kilometers (311 miles).” This made us laugh. We had to drive a total of 870 kilometers (540 miles) and were hoping to make it in about 10 hours. We finally did.

Dec 15, 2011

Witness: Picturing the sinking of the Soviet Union

ALMATY (Reuters) – The Soviet Union, we had always thought, was surely too big to fail.

We had all seen the bare shelves in the shops. We knew that many constituent republics had declared their independence. But this was still my almighty Soviet Union, the only country this 20-year-old photojournalist from Kazakhstan had ever known.

Jun 16, 2011
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Baikonur: A fusion of time and tradition

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The first time I saw the Soyuz rocket, I could not believe that this “construction” could take people into space. Even ten years later, after covering many launches, it still surprises me the level of determination with which people wanted to go into space that led to the building of a huge complex called the Baikonur cosmodrome.

Every visit I am overcome with mixed feelings. On one hand, even 50 years after the first manned space flight, space remains a sphere of high technology and garners special attention. But the storm of the Soviet Union’s collapse left its indelible mark on the map of the spaceport. Abandoned and rusting construction, giant structures and mechanisms are silent witnesses of the space complex’s era of glory. Nostalgia resonates in every story about the history of Baikonur. Space exploration has never been a simple technological development. Everyone who served personally conquered space and the service is overgrown with tradition cherished to this day. There is no policy or ideology in it. It is rather a particular style of the Soviet, now Russian, cosmonautics. Simple and quick solutions were chosen in the race for supremacy in space. Sometimes it seems to me that there is no nanotechnology that can force these cherished orthodox methods to be abandoned.