On October 4, 1957 a historic point in the evolution of  humanity was reached. On that day the Soviet Union launched the first man-made object into earth orbit, in the
form of the satellite, Sputnik. This event shocked the populace and government of the United States. This moment also started the Space Race between the two
countries, a race in which the Soviet Union clearly had a sizable early lead. I was a youngster at the time but remember this period as the Space Race that had a direct
impact on my family. In 1954 my family moved from South Dakota to Huntsville, Alabama, as my father was hired by the US Army in a civilian capacity at Redstone
Arsenal. He worked on the US Army Nike Ajax surface to air missile program and I still remember a beautiful framed color photograph of a Nike Ajax on its launcher that
he hung on the wall of our den. The launch of Sputnik changed everything. Werner von Braun and the German scientists were moved to Huntsville for a crash missile
program. Von Braun lived a mile from my house and his daughter went to my elementary school, although she was chaffered there instead of walking there like me. One
street over was another German scientist and their son Hubbie played with my group. When the group played American Civil War almost all of the boys wanted to be
Confederates. There were only two sure Yankees. Since I was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I was a natural and Hubbie said that since he was born in Northern
Germany, he too would be a Yankee.
Meanwhile, the US Navy tried to compete with their Vanguard Missile Program. It was a terrible fiasco and everyone was a failure. The US Air Force tried their
missiles also without success. It was a derivative of the US Army Redstone missile through Jupiter to Juno that marked the US entry into space. On April 12, 1961 the
Soviet Union made another historical first. Cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevitch Gagarin became the first human in space with the Vostok missile.  The National Aeronautics
and Space Administration was formed and my father went to work for NASA at Marshall Space Flight Center, later working on the main engines for the Saturn V
moon rocket. Gagarin became the deputy training director of the Cosmonaut Training Center outside Moscow. He was tragically killed on March 27, 1968 at the age of
34 when his MiG-15 training fighter crashed. The Cosmonaut Training Center was renamed after him. However, this was not the only thing in the Russian space
program that was named after this historic figure.
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
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.
Combrig Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, Space Communications Ship Project 1909 - The Combrig KosmonautYuri Gagarin in 1:700 scale is a big model for that
scale. The hull is waterline only but there is the residue of a casting vent along the waterline  that needs to be removed from the hull. Fortunately there is a recessed line
separating the hull proper from the vent, which makes its removal less susceptible to error. The hull resembles a hotel placed on the hull of a supertanker. The hull has a
sleek cutwater with a prominent flared forecastle and curving to what almost looks like a ram. Almost a deck level are prominent hull anchor hawse fittings. The
forecastle is higher than the main deck, so the deck bulkheads curve down to the main deck level. This is repeated at the stern where the bulkheads curve up to the
raised quarterdeck. The only hull portholes are found rigt below the quarterdeck. At the very stern is a recessed stern anchor location. If you feel that you didn’t get
your fair share of portholes, don’t worry, the windows on the superstructure more than make up for it. Cast integral to the hull are two levels of superstructure inboard
from the hull sides and running 80% the length of the hull. They are festooned with square windows interrupted occasionally be detailed doors.

There is a two level forecastle, which as mentioned, is raised above the main deck. Both levels have a bulkhead featuring support gussets. The higher level of the
forecastle is forward and has an extensive number of deck fittings. There are nine twin bollard fittings with a large fitting centerline and smaller offset fittings. Other
fittings at this level are chain locker entrance fittings, deck anchor hawse and deck lockers. In addition to the windlass locater holes, there many other smaller locater
holes for other separate resin fittings. The lower level of the forecastle has a cargo well fitting, two more smaller twin bollard fittings and plenty more locater holes. The
long main deck has five twin bollard fittings on each side. The outboard edge of the main deck slants down with a series of circular plates on the slanted edge. There are
recessed squares for two lifeboat positions on each side and a couple of other fittings on each side.  The quarterdeck also has solid bulkheads with support gussets.
Two large twin bollard fitting are at the stern with three more smaller bollards on each side. There is a large incised circle at the rear of the quarterdeck. Other locater
holes and recessed locater squares are also here.
Smaller resin pieces are cast in three formats. The large pieces are cast singly, either on stubs or a runner, thin pieces, such as decks are on a thin wafer, and the bulk
of the parts are in multiples on runners. There  are quite a few larger parts cast singly. The largest are two blocks of upper superstructure. The forward block is four
levels high with the bridge at the top with finely done square windows. Smaller square windows are all over the sides and front face. The sides also excellent doors in
alcoves and doors exiting the sides of the bridge. The detail on the doors include frame, port holes and dogs. On the top of the second level is a solid bulkhead along the
sides. The deck has locater wells for communication pylons, medium size locater circles and an incised deck plate. The aft superstructure block is two levels high with
the square windows on all four faces. There are eleven of the detailed doors. Two on the first level on each side in alcoves, four on the starboard side second level,
two on the second level port side and one on the stern face. The funnel base is here with ventilation louvers on the forward corners and junction boxes on the port side.
There is solid front and side bulkheads forward with a locater circle on the starboard side of the deck.
A funnel well is aft with a raised equipment platform aft of the funnel base house. Two huge parabolic dishes are cast singly with lines/supports radiating outward
from the center of the rear faces. There are square fitting bases at the center of the dishes with locater circle front and rear. Two smaller parabolic dishes are also cast
on single runners and are similar to the large dishes but without the square base in the center of the front faces. Six other pieces of superstructure are also cast singly
on stubs. Four are tapered pylons for the parabolic dishes. Two are larger for the large dishes with two medium size for the smaller dishes. The large pylons have
square housings with entrance doors at the bottom. Vision slits on two sides and a detailed circular fitting at the top for rotating the dishes. The smaller pylons have
entrance doors at the bottom and the rotating fixtures at the top. The elongated octagon stack has one detailed door with ventilation slits at the top and ventilation
louvers aft. The last singly cast part is a deck house, which is located forward of the aft superstructure. There are support ribs on the exterior and hatches on the
Decks and platforms are cast on two resin film wafers. The larger of the two has a deck that surrounds the forward superstructure block with solid bulkheads on three
sides, locater slits for a boat cradle forward and a large opening into which the superstructure block fits. Around this opening is a raised platform. There are ten more
parts on the large wafer. Two are the bridge wings, four are side platforms with bulkheads, a circular deck house with sliding doors that fits in the circle on the
quarterdeck, a small deck house and platform located aft of the forward large pylon and a large deck house located forward of the second large pylon. There are
fourteen parts on the smaller wafer. The most unusual is a spade shaped platform for the circular deck house on the quarterdeck, which has equipment castings on the
platform. The pylons have walkways and platforms on this wafer. There is a deck for the aft superstructure with opening for the superstructure block with a raised
platform around the opening, inclined ladder openings, and fittings at the forward edge. A large T-shape platform goes on the top of the funnel. Other parts are a
forecastle cargo hatch, aft side platforms with bulkheads, and forward superstructure side platforms.

There are fifteen resin runners packed with smaller resin parts. The
Combrig kit has some unusual parts on some of the runners due to the mission of the ship. The
most unusual are the four cradles for the parabolic dishes. These are all on one runner with two large and two smaller cradles. The bases of the mounts are identical but
the two for the large dishes have what resembles double automobile air filters while the two for the two smaller dishes have blocks. A second runner contains more
unique items. It has three base mounts for cranes, four commo domes with piping running to the crown, the top of the exhaust funnel tube and a small deck house. A
third runner has the two focal points of the large parabolic arrays that resemble small fruit bowls and three arrays that resemble catapults with photo-etch cage
structures at their ends. This kit is chock full of unusual and strange parts. More of these parts are on the fourth runner with four supports for the bases of the small
dishes, five small bases for strange four pyramid arrays, and a large platform a two strut structure on the forecastle. The four supports for the large dishes are on a
runner that also has four small platform support posts. A small runner has the tall detailed structure for a platform in front of the funnel and the two struts for the
forecastle platform. The three crane arms are on another runner.
Other runners have the more common ship’s fittings. One has two long and one short bulkheads for the aft superstructure and two platforms for the forecastle
platform supports.. Another runner has six different patterns of parts. The runner has five large single bollards, a locker,  two wing base houses for an amidship
platform, four platform supports, and three anchor windlasses. Ten deck winches and four extended cable reels share a runner. Twelve simple cable reels are on a
runner with four platforms, a signal lamp, five pieces of navigation equipment, and three other small parts. A series of what appears to be mushroom ventilators is on
a runner. They are of different sizes and are straight and bent. Four platforms are also on the runner. Three runners have the ship’s boats, two with covered boats and
one with open boats. The covered boats are of three different patterns with two, four or eight deck hatches. The four open boats are of unique design for each. The
last runner has an assortment of small parts, some of which I was unable to find the attachment location in the instructions. There are three finely detailed anchors, a
search light, the aft platform support post, small platform antennas, four davits, two curved bulkheads with open rectangles and four other parts.
There are a lot of resin parts that are complemented by a huge number of brass parts. The kit comes with a large and a medium sized brass photo-etched fret produced
Combrig by North Star Models. These frets contain a vast number of finely detailed brass parts. Plate 1 is the large fret and is dominated by two types of parts.
One type are the multiple supports for the parabolic dishes and the other type are the various railings. There are 34 large supports on fret 1 alone with more on fret 2.
These go on the back of the large dishes and form a veritable spider web of brass supporting the back of the concave dishes. I counted 56 supports for the smaller
dishes, which clearly attach to the back of the dishes and 16 of a slightly different pattern, which I yet to identify in the instructions. There are three very long runs of
ship’s railing as well as numerous medium and short length runs of railing. Also found on fret one are runs of safety netting; dish arms; large, medium and small
platforms; platform supports; circular walkways with frame arms; boat davits; smaller array fittings and frame supports; whip antennas; bow staff; and a host of
smaller array fittings. The second fret has another 36 large support braces for the large dishes. Also found on this fret are more arrays that are found on the first fret.
New items on this fret include inclined ladders with hand rails; side fittings for the large dish machinery resin parts; ship’s boats detail parts; boat frames; as well as
other parts. A small decal sheet is provided with decals for the Soviet flag, two red stars, two large hammer and sickles, two ship’s name plates in red in English, four
ship’s nameplates in Russian in black (two with home port and two without home port (which the box photograph clearly shows on each side of the bow).                

There are nine pages of instructions. Even with nine pages, it is not enough for this complex kit. Both the resin and brass parts should have been assigned an
alpha/numeric designator on the runner, fret and instructions. There are just so many parts in this kit it is difficult to identify some parts just from a drawing or finding
their attachment location in the instructions. Don’t get me wrong, most of the parts can be identified easily enough. Its just some of the smaller parts that provide an
exercise in instruction searching. Page one has the standard profile and plan of the ship, ship specifications in English and history in Russian. Page two is a laydown for
the resin parts. Page three has a laydown for the brass parts, a template for cutting the masts and yards, and inset on multistage inclined ladders and a detailed inset on
assembling semicircular platforms. Page four concentrates on assembly of the small parabolic dishes with two drawings on their assembly as well as assembly insets
for two types of smaller arrays and three for ship’s boats. Page five is solely on assembly of the large parabolic dish towers with three drawings, one on the assembly
of the back of the dishes and then two on the sequential assembly of towers and dishes. The forward and aft superstructure assembly is handled on page six and is
easy to follow compared to the intricacy of the dish towers. Page seven has attachment of hull and deck fittings with insets for boat davit assembly and catapult
looking arrays. The attachment of forecastle parts should have had a separate inset as the forecastle is really crowded with fittings. Page eight shows the assembled
hull so far and has six detailed assembly module insets. These insets include modules on aft platform, forecastle tower, two different amidship  deck houses, amidship
tower and another smaller array assembly. The last page has final assembly with attachment of superstructure, towers, deck houses, dish towers and cranes. The
instructions do not have the decal placement locations.
The Combrig Kosmonaut Yuri Gagarin is a truly unique model. It is the most ambitious and challenging kit yet produced by Combrig. With the high quantity of resin
and brass parts provided and the complexity of the various space communication arrays, the kit is certainly not for beginners. It will be a challenging build for even
advanced modelers but the promise is there. On completion the modeler will have a truly unique show stopper.
Steve Backer