Gist: Today is an important date in the history of the Russian space program. Twenty years ago the reusable Buran shuttle made her maiden voyage. Without exaggerating it was a pivotal moment for the planet. Because the USSR obtained the ability to launch a nuclear first strike, it headed off the possibility of a war in space.
These people have gathered once again after twenty years. Today, as back then, cosmonauts, test pilots, engineers and designers have all gathered here in the hall of the Energiya Design Bureau, united by the multi-use space shuttle Buran. This is footage of the Energiya launch vehicle with the Buran aboard. It may be history now, but back on 15 November, 1988, the people sitting here watched this live holding their breath. The Soviet government placed great hopes on this project. More than a 1000 design bureaus worked on the project. The Buran was designed to put a then record 30 tons of payload into near-Earth orbit.
For a long time we debated on where to put the booster rocket, on the Buran or on the launch vehicle. In the end we put it on the rocket, like the Americans. So we got two ways to launch payloads into orbit. One way was to put a hundred tons of payload on the rocket and the other was to put up to thirty tons on the sub-orbital vehicle.
The system worked fine during its 206 minute flight, making two orbits around the Earth. But all the tasks hadn't been carried out. Now came the most complicated step - a one of a kind landing in autonomous mode. After a few minutes, for the first time in the history of flight a multi-ton aircraft came in for a landing using only electronics into the airfield at Baykonur, strictly on course, not a centimeter off.
The multi-use Buran was a new type of space craft for her time. Her flight demonstrated the high level of acheivement of the Soviet space program. Her flight parameters were unparalleled, even surpassing those of the American Space Shuttle. To this day the American space shuttle is landed manually. Today it is known that the shuttle had a secret side.
The Buran deterred war in space. She deterred American plans for war in space. With one flight we canceled out everything the Americans were going to do with ten. You can imagine what an accomplishment that was back then.
Depite it's success, the program was canceled because of a lack of financing, but specialists consider the program to be viable. They are sure that a need for a shuttle will arise. And technology developed for the program like heat resistant materials and the automatic landing system have found wide use.
Where are they today?
A Buran test model floats down the Rhine to her final resting place in a German Museum.
(Photo: Siberian Light)
And here is the actual Buran that traveled into space:
(Photo: Buran Homepage)
The roof of the hanger where it is stored in Baykonur collapsed in 2002, killing eight workers.
Here is a great series of pictures of the Buran getting unloaded from the An-225 and placed on the launch vehicle in the assembly hall in Baykonur.