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Shuttle Buran

The Soviet reusable spacecraft program Buran (meaning 'snowstorm' or 'blizzard' in Russian) was launched in 1976 as a response to the United States Space Shuttle program. Soviet politicians were convinced that the Space Shuttle could be used for military purposes, hence posing a potential threat to the balance of power during the Cold War. The project was the largest and the most expensive in the history of Soviet space exploration.


The construction of the shuttles began in 1980 and by 1984 the first full-scale Buran was rolled out. The first suborbital test flight of a scale-model, however, took place as early as July 1983. As the project lasted, five additional scale-model flights were performed. With the first full-scale Buran, 24 test flights were performed after which the shuttle was 'worn out'.

The first and only orbital launch of the (unmanned) shuttle Buran was at 3:00 GMT on November 15, 1988. It was lifted into orbit by the specially designed Energiya booster rocket. The life support system was not tested yet and no software was installed on the CRT displays. The shuttle orbited the Earth twice before returning.

Part of the launch was televised, but the actual lift-off was not shown. This led to some speculation that the mission may have been faked, and that the subsequent landing may not have been from orbit but from a shuttle-carrying aircraft.

After the first flight the project was suspended due to lack of funds and the political situation in the Soviet Union. The two subsequent orbiters, which were due in 1990 (codename Ptichka - little bird) and 1992 respectively were never completed. The project was officially shut down in 1993.

The completed shuttles called 1.01 and 1.02 and the remains of the project are now property of Kazakstan.

Shuttle Buran on a Energiya booster rocket

See also: manned space missions, unmanned space missions, space exploration

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