|Space telecommunications was necessary for telemetry and communications with Cosmonauts and Astronauts. Although the Soviet Union had the huge land mass for
communication stations in the Northern Hemisphere, as well as a station in Cuba, these stations could provide coverage in the Northern Hemisphere. However there
were no facilities for the Pacific or Southern Hemisphere. To provide for telecommunication needs for the Cosmonauts and satellites, the Soviet Union developed a
series of ships designed to provide for telemetry needs where land stations did not exist. In 1965 and 1966 a number of merchant timber carriers called the Vytegrales
Class were built at the Zhdanov, Leningrad and Vyborg shipyards in the Baltic. Four of these were taken over by the Academy of Sciences and converted to Space
Event Support Ships to provide telecommunication in areas not covered by land stations. They were called the Borovichi Class and were of only moderate size with a
full load displacement of 7,600 tons. They were converted from the timber carriers in 1967. Four more of these timber carriers were given a more significant and
capable conversion in 1977 and 1978. The next conversion was on a much grander scale when a bulk carrier of the Poltava Class was converted into the Kosmonaut
Vladimir Komarov, which weighed in at 17,500 tons full load and could easily be distinguished by the presence of two large and one medium size communications
domes. She went into service in 1966 and was the largest of the Space Event Support Ships until 1970 when the Akademik Sergei Korolev went into service with a
displacement of 21,465 tons.
In December 1971 the largest and grandest of all Space Event Support Ships came about. As with all of the others, the ship was manned and run by the Academy of
Sciences as a purely civilian enterprise. The ship was named in honor of the first human in space, Kosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and displaced a whopping 53,500 tons. She
was originally designed as a Sofiya Class tanker but the design was modified before the ship was laid down to her new function. The Gagarin was built at the Baltic
Shipyard in Leningrad. The dimensions were 760-feet (231.7 m) overall (213.9 m between perpendicular bulkheads), 102-feet (31.1 m) beam and 33-feet (10 m) draft.
She was powered by one set of gas turbines with electric drive with one propeller providing 19,000 hp for a maximum speed of 18 knots. Bow and stern thrusters
were provided. The range was a tremendous 24,000 nm at 17.7 knots and carried a crew of 160 with another 180 scientists/technicians. The Gagarin was given
extravagant fittings in the style of an ocean liner with three swimming pools, a 300 seat theater and gymnasium. The huge size with a cleaver bow and four
communication dishes, two of which were huge, made the Gagarin instantly recognizable. The space communications were provided y two 27 m diameter Ship Shell
dishes, two 12.5 m Ship Bowl dishes, all four of which were stabilized. Additionally she was equipped with two Vee Tube HF arrays and four Quad Ring arrays. The
Kosmonaut Yuri Gagarin remained the largest communication ship in the world and was based in Odessa on the Black Sea. In 1975 the ship was instrumental in the
joint Soviet-American Soyuz-Apollo program. Her role in space communications ended when the Soviet Union broke up and the Ukraine took over the ship in 1992. In
1996 she was renamed Agar. She didn’t remain long under that name as later in the year she was towed to Aliağa, Turkey and scrapped.