The Astra 1M SC operates with a bi-propellant propulsion system. This means that it carries two sets of chemicals that react exothermically (hot and explosively!) when combined in the engines on board the SC to provide final drift orbital insertion. Since there is no oxygen in space, one of these chemicals supplies the oxygen in the chemical reaction. For this spacecraft, its dinitrogen tetroxide (N2O4), otherwise known as oxidizer. We successfully loaded this first half of the propellants on the SC today. The operation required that all non-essential personnel evacuate Building 92A-50. So, some of the team had the day off to explore Kazakhstan and decided to visit the Korkyt-Ata Mausoleum.

A little background on Korkyt-Ata:

Korkyt-Ata was a ninth century Kazakhstan philosopher and thinker. He is the founder of Kazakh “stringed and bow” music. This legendary figure is credited with being the first shaman and the creator of the kyl-kobyz, a cross between a cello and a fiddle. The instrument, now made of goat leather and hollowed wood, is played with a bow and has two strings made of horsehair. Whenever Korkyt-Ata appears in artwork he is always depicted as an old, bearded man wearing a hat and playing the kobyz. He also exists in many Turkic cultures, including Azeri and Turkmen. There is even a University named for him in Turkey.

When Korkyt-Ata was 20 years old, he had a dream in which he learned that he would die at age 40. So, he decided that he would try to escape death by traversing the four corners of the Earth on his camel, Zhelmaya, searching for the secret of eternal life. But wherever he went, he saw people digging graves; when he asked them who the graves were for, they always answered, “For Korkyt.” Eventually, he gave up his search; understanding that his death was inevitable. When he returned to his native banks of Syr-Darya River, “the center of land,” he sacrificed his camel and made an instrument by placing its skin and hair on a carved-out piece of wood – the first kyl-kobyz. He then began to play the kobyz day and night, what some call “songs of life.” He composed many pieces that are still performed today, passed down through the centuries by generations of Kazakh baqsis, shamans.

As long as Korkyt played the kobyz, nature slowed, animals became silent and waters stilled. Death could not touch him, while he played. After many days of constant playing, Korkyt tired and fell asleep. It is then that death took its opportunity. While he slept, death came to him in the form of a snake and with one fatal bite, claimed Korkyt’s life. Although, unbeknownst to him, Korkyt had already fulfilled his life’s quest, he had achieved immortality through music and folklore.

(background from the stories told on tour, as well as multiple online sources)

The unique open architectural site dedicated to Korkyt-Ata is designed in the shape of the kobyz, the musical instrument that Korkyt created. There is a theater-like circular structure with concentric circles for seating which descend to the center where the acoustics are close to perfect. There was also a “wishing room” which all the tour participants used… can you guess what everyone wished for?

On the way home we stopped at the equivalent of a Kazakh truck stop. A good time was had by all!

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