(All images by Aleksander Markin; abandoned Buran programme’s rotting wind tunnel model)
Buran, the Soviet Union’s answer to NASA’s Space Shuttle programme, wasn’t quite as successful as its American rival. Just one flight-capable Buran orbiter (craft OK-1K1) was completed, and flew only once, unmanned, on November 15, 1988. The 206 minute space flight saw the Soviet shuttle orbit the Earth twice before landing, for the first and last time, at Baikonur Cosmodrome deep within the Palearctic desert steppe of Kazakhstan.
But the greatest indignity came in 2002, when years of poor maintenance caused the corroding roof of the redundant shuttle’s hangar to collapse, killing seven people and destroying Buran OK-1K1. Today, a handful of relics from the Buran programme lie strewn across the former Soviet Union and beyond, from half-finished orbiters to a series of full-scale engineering rigs and other test articles; among them was this wooden wind tunnel model, abandoned for years in a corner of Zhukovsky Airfield in Moscow Oblast.
The derelict test article has the appearance of an abandoned amusement park ride, cheaply constructed in the shape of a space shuttle orbiter then left to decay amid the harsh elements of western Russia.
But this relic of the Space Race is a genuine 1/3 scale replica of the Buran shuttle, which was used in wind tunnel experiments to test the craft’s aerodynamic properties.
Eighty-five wind tunnel models are understood to have been completed during the programme and ranged in size from 1:3 to 1:550.
Wind tunnel testing also revealed that the shape of NASA’s Space Shuttle prototype Enterprise was perfect for the role it had been designed for, and Buran took on a similar appearance as a result.
It’s unclear for how long this relatively rudimentary wooden mockup was left outdoors, though the Buran programme was cancelled in 1993 due to lack of funding and political instability as the Soviet Union crumbled.
This series of photographs by Aleksander Markin is believed to have been taken in 2013, suggesting the abandoned Buran artifact may have slowly rotted away in a weed-strewn corner of Zhukovsky Airfield (aka Ramenskoye Airport) for the best part of 20 years.
(All images by Aleksander Markin)
In the end, however, it made little difference. Bowed and decaying, with trees and branches growing around and through its wooden hulk, the Buran wind tunnel model was ultimately destroyed, like OK-1K1 before it.