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Today in Russian History: The Launch of the Russian Space Shuttle

15. November 2012 by Lorena 0 Comments

On November 15, 1988, the Soviet Union launched their first, and last, space shuttle. An un-manned shuttle, the Buran, was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome. Baikonur Cosmodrome is the world’s first and largest space shuttle launch facility, located in the desert steppes of Kazakhstan. The unmanned shuttle completed two orbits of the Earth before landing back in Baikonur Cosmodrome, only a few meters away from its touch-down target. Until 2010, it remained the only unmanned vehicle to make a complete space flight, including landing, on automatic mode.


The Buran, at least on the outside, looked a lot like the US Space Shuttles. Designers were reluctant to create a vehicle that looked so much like its American counterparts; however, tests showed that the US design was aerodynamically ideal, so, this was the model that was used. Inside the shuttle, however, there were marked differences. The Buran shuttle was unmanned, and ran on a different fuel that the US Shuttles. It was designed to be able to fly in both manual and automatic modes.


The Soviet Space Program began its space shuttle program in the 1970s as a response to the US Space Shuttle program. The Soviet Union had strong suspicions that the US Space Shuttle program had military applications, and the Soviets felt it was imperative that they not get left behind.


Three other shuttles were at least partially built and a number of launches were planned. However, financial stresses caused by the fall of the Soviet Union prevented further missions. The Buran program was officially dismantled in 1993. The original Buran shuttle was destroyed in a hangar collapse in 2002. However, visitors can see a prototype of the shuttle in Gorky Park.