Abandoned Russian Space Shuttles (Burans) in Baikonur, Kazakhstan

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In the late 1970s, the Soviet Union decided to essentially rip off the American space shuttle and create their own “bigger and better and more Soviet” version.  The result was the Buran spacecraft. While multiple Burans were built, only one flew in space for about 3 hours.  Then it was put into a building and locked away by the Soviets because the program was just too expensive to run.

Although the Burans live on, albeit in a degraded and failing state due to the natural elements and looters, the boosters that took the Buran to space were completely destroyed in 2012 after a storage roof caved in.  So these guys will probably never fly again (unless they were fully restored and the boosters completely reconstructed).

Recently, some European adventurists sneaked into the facility and took some incredible footage that you can watch on their youtube channel:

You can read more and see more incredible pictures from National Geographic here.

The Buran started off as a copy of the US space shuttle, but quickly took on a life of its own.  The Russians decided to go essentially pilotless, and in fact the one and only Buran flight was done without any crew.  It was essentially a spaceship drone.

If the Russians were able to do autopilot space missions, why couldn’t the Americans?  In Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff there is some discussion about the Mercury astronauts insisting on a design that would allow them to have more control over the space shuttle.  The pilots wanted to feel like they were flying the capsule and not just along for the ride, which was probably more in line with what NASA had in mind at the time.  After all, the Mercury ships were piloted by trained chimps on their test flights!

As for the Soviets, they were known for simply locking things up and walking away when they ran out of money.  And so, you have Russian space shuttles sitting out in the middle of nowhere, rotting away in the dustbin of history.

 

 

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