Russia's cosmonauts prepare for letdown
Designed by Soviet secret-keepers in the depths of the Cold War, Star City lies deep in the pine and birch forests on Moscow's edge, and even now you can't find it on many maps. The men at the gates and checkpoints ask for your documents, and when you get inside the legendary cosmonaut training center, you expect to find something splendid -- a glimmer of the cosmos, a flash of eternal striving.
[. . .]
But the hushed fields and deep woods have an eerie, deserted feel. Between research buildings, stray dogs pick at frozen mud scabbing the snow. Here and there, retired engineers in fur-lined hats stroll unsteadily among the buildings of the compound, a cross between a village and an industrial park.
[. . .]
In front of a bank of control panels and computers, two middle-aged women discuss methods of cooking potatoes and sausages. There are some men too, one of them in camouflage. Except for the cosmonauts in their bright blue jumpsuits, you can't tell what any of them are doing, and you are not supposed to ask.