An Embarrassment of Rich Space History?

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Over four years ago, I had fun writing about the Buran, the Soviet Union’s (now Russia) answer to the U.S. Space Shuttle. You can read about it here:

The reason why I’m bringing this up is because posted an article (here: about a week ago. It’s a story about a reporter who managed to sneak into places at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. These are places Westerners typically are not allowed to visit. In this instance, the reporter not only snuck in, but took quite a few photos.

The photos were of the Buran–two Burans, actually. He also captured a few photos of the Energia booster, which would have lifted one the Burans into orbit. The story focuses on the reporter’s efforts to get to these buildings, and what happened when he returned to show off the photos of what sat within. Apparently some Russians have been embarrassed by this. It’s probably almost as embarrassing as a teenager flying a Cessna 100’s of miles through very secure airspace and then landing in Red Square (true story:

But it’s also sad. The Russians were very good at building awesome space technology. The launch vehicles used today in Roscosmos launches are a testament to the engineering and design prowess of the Russians (albeit flagging lately). The shape of their Soyuz launch vehicle is about as iconic as V-2 based rocket designs, and perhaps better-looking. But in those images lay some of the Soviet space program’s more interesting projects, covered in bird droppings and hidden away from history, in buildings that sound like they are on the verge of collapse.

Whether the Soviets dropped the Burans because they realized operations would be too expensive for such as a system, money issues generally, or were concerned about possible safety issues because of the system’s complexity, I am not sure (I’ll have to find a book about it). But there they sit, a history snapshot.

I’d love to see them in person one day.

4 thoughts on “An Embarrassment of Rich Space History?

  1. Wow, Buran is one of my favorites and also one of the saddest projects in all Soviet space program. And I didn´t knew it before going to Baikonur: Over there they have one model (scale 1:1) in the cosmodrome museum, and you can go inside it. And it looks beautiful. But as you said, is sad to know that the only “real” one that flew to space was destroyed by the roof of the hangar where it was storage (due to poor maintenance, one of the roofs of the most iconic integration building at Baikonur, the one that had been used for the lunar program and also Buran, broke and felt in 2002). Or that the other testing models and semi-completed Burans are stored in empty hangars, waiting for maybe the same final.

    Also for my experience, I think you can enter as many places as you want to visit in Baikonur if:
    1st-You are willing to pay whatever they ask you
    2nd- Is not related to on-going Military operations

    And for what I know, indeed, it was far more than an answer to the US space shuttle. And in my view, it really was designed along the Energia launcher, to boost heavy military payloads, as it was through the US Space Shuttle and the famous “Star Wars” initiative would do (see for example this web page with an abstract of a USSR civil defense book where the Space Shuttle is described as a US vector to launch nuclear attacks: )

    For Buran info, I learn a lot about it reading and articles from Anatoly Zack, like this one:
    Also, this web page has really good and detail info:

    But as you said, is a pity the little publicity we had about Buran, and how the remaining testing models, spaceships, and installations that were being constructed in the 1980s were left. But I guess is what happens when money really goes out, and you can´t even storage or keep your history. But to be honest, everything around Baikonur looks really like is falling apart.

    However, I think that in Russia this is changing. In the Cosmonautics Museum of Moscow or in Baikonur itself, Buran is well presented and know. And for me, it was surprising to see that along the N1L3 lunar project, Buran is really something that is coming out of the “darkness corner” where it was. And students, kids, and even adult people are confronted with these technological beauties. And I think with time, Russia will be able to restore and place these amazing and beautiful space systems back in the public domain, and in a proper way, and place to admire and see them. Just as the US has done with the Space Shuttle. For my experience, they really did a good job, because before going to Moscow and Baikonur, I didn´t even know about its existence, and now I´m convinced that it was a better system than the Space Shuttle, but that it was incapable of cope with the USSR collapse.

    Liked by 1 person

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