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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: https://wordpress.com/post/themadspaceball.com/564.
The reason why I’m bringing this up is because Vice.com posted an article (here: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/evm3dm/photographing-these-abandoned-space-shuttles-made-me-a-russian-target) 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: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/matthias-rust-lands-his-plane-in-red-square).
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 Vice.com 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.