Buran: The Abandoned Russian Space Shuttle

abandoned russian space shuttle Buran

(Image by John Carter.  Licensed under CC-NC-SA-2.0)

With the Buran space shuttle long since destroyed, you might expect Mother Russia to take better care of the programme’s leftovers, like this full scale engineering test-bed seemingly abandoned in a corner of Moscow’s Gorky Park.  The 105-tonne shuttle is actually an amusement park attraction fitted with 30 seats designed to give the public a sense of weightlessness.  But it appears to have fallen on hard times since it was brought to Moscow in 1995.

(Image by Jean & Nathalie.  Licensed under CC-2.0)

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has done a good job of keeping information about the Buran orbiter murky.  The shuttle above is known to be one of eight test articles used for systems evaluation.  Five “space Burans” were completed or under construction when the project was cancelled, and were subsequently dismantled or abandoned.  Only one orbiter (the one we most commonly refer to as “Buran”) flew in space, although a second was close to completion.  This first flight (unmanned) on November 15, 1988 was also to be the last, and the ill-fated orbiter was decommissioned due to lack of funding.

The only Buran to fly spent the rest of its life in a hangar in Kazakhstan until it was destroyed one fateful day in May 2002.  But unlike American shuttles Challenger and Columbia, which were tragically lost during blast-off and re-entry, Buran was crushed when its hangar roof collapsed due to poor maintenance.  The remaining test-articles, like this one in Gorky Park, represent the decaying legacy of Russia’s doomed shuttle orbiter programme. However, a restoration effort appears to be in the works. Stay tuned!

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