You would never guess that Uzbekistan once was taking an active part in developing space technologies and taking part in space programs. And we are not talking about the middle ages Islamiс astronomers, about the famous Ulugh Beg who was considered by scholars to have one of the finest observatories in the Islamic world at the time and the largest in Central Asia, who also compiled the greatest star catalogue of its time. Not, we are talking about events that were taking place within our generation.
As all of us know Soviet Union was one of several super powers actively engaged in space exploration and had ambitious space programs to reach other planets in our Solar system. Uzbekistan was part of this huge program and had its hand in those space projects. The main activity was carried out not far from Tashkent in a place called Nevich.
Nevich is a huge and very old village with the unusual name that sounds more appropriate somewhere in Eastern Europe than in Central Asia. But the name probably has Sogdian roots.
The settlement is stretched as a sausage with some elevation towards the mountains. There is nothing special about this place worth stopping and you should head further a couple of kilometers along uncultivated lands until, after another turn, reaching something from a sci-fi fiction.
This is the Nevich testing ground of TashKBM (Tashkent Machine Building Design Bureau), created in 1969 as the branch of the Moscow Bureau of General Mechanical Engineering, where the word "general" should be understood as "well, who should know already knows." Tashkent bureau operated as a branch, but starting from the 1970s on it was more concentrated on its own projects. Its main specialization was space technology, primarily drilling equipment and soil-intake devices for Luna-24, Venera-13 and Vostok-1, Vega-1 stations that were landing on other planets of our Solar system.
Most of all TashKBM products operated on Venus where the heat on the surface reaches 500-degrees Celsius, 100-times atmospheric pressure and acid clouds. That's why it was also here in Tashkent, where they were developing protection for spacecrafts and space furnaces. The apotheosis of TashKBM was Radioastron, the largest orbiting telescope in the world that was created here in the late 1980s, but as a result of USSR collapse it was completed in Russia in the 2000s and launched into the space in 2011. But local people believe that Nevich testing ground is a "place where Lunokhod was tested".
The most impressive construction of the site used to be a giant, 30 meters high, metal Stool, as well as this hangar from a photo below (measuring 40 x 40 x 50 meters) intended for mounting Radioastron when it was fully unfolded (it was supposed that the telescope will reach space in a form of streamlined "bud" and once there will blossom like a flower).
The Stool is no longer there, but a high tower stays nearby. The tower was used for testing to drop samples down and analyze the result of the fall and the impact of collision with both ground and the water - there are some kind of pools below that were filled with water when needed. Obviously, this was a highly secretive test site and all the works were classified.
It was a place where they tested "Phobos-Grunt" penetrator - this project also started in TashKBM, but in the end was also completed in Moscow. Unfortunately, the mission failed at launch, becoming perhaps the most serious accident of post-Soviet cosmonautics. The Nevich testing ground is now in a state between "conserved" and "abandoned", with no optimistic future on the horizon.