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October 4, 2008

Soviet shuttle finally gets a home

Posted: 09:13 AM ET

A Soviet space shuttle has finally landed in a museum.  After a long history and a virtual world tour, a Shuttle Buran was put on permanent display to the public on Friday at the "Technik Museum Speyer" near Manheim, Germany.

Photo: Aaron Cooper, CNN

When you first walk into the Buran building you could easily mistake the shuttle for its American counterpart.  It looks almost identical to NASA's fleet, but the museum points out it's not just a Soviet copy.  They explain the similarities saying both design teams were governed by the same laws of physics, had similar goals, and Soviet designers drew on NASA's publicized research but the end products were substantially different.

The Technik Museum already had a large collection (everything from a Boeing 747 mounted high in the air, to a Cold War U boat, fire trucks, typewriters and model trains) but museum director Hermann Layher dreamed of adding a space shuttle.

The U.S. shuttles are still in use, but the Soviet Union's Buran shuttles were mothballed when funding was cut shortly after the collapse of communism.  Only one had ever been launched (unmanned in 1988), but that was destroyed in 2002 when its hangar collapsed.

One of the test models was available.  Buran OK-GLI, like the U.S. Space Shuttle Enterprise, was built to test aerodynamics for landings.  Unlike it's American counterpart the OK-GLI had 4 jet engines attached to its tail so it could take off for its test flights (the Enterprise had to be carried aloft by a Boeing 747.)

The Buran OK-GLI had been displayed at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, then was taken to Bahrain to be exhibited, but got mired in a legal battle between its owners and the exhibitors.  The Technik Museum was able to buy it and after a long legal battle brought it to Germany.  It was first shipped by sea, then pushed on barges up the Rhine River to the city of Speyer.

In all the museum spent about 10 million Euros (about 15 million dollars) to buy the shuttle, bring it to Germany, and put it on display in it specially built hangar.  Friday a steady stream of museum visitors, including me, flooded into that hanger to see exactly what a Soviet space shuttle looks like.

–CNN Producer Aaron Cooper in Speyer, Germany


Filed under: Space

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K Nathan   October 4th, 2008 9:29 am ET

the 2002 olympics were not in sydney...

Greg Schaffer   October 4th, 2008 9:38 am ET

It's too bad the Soviets never were able to bring this program up. I could have seen the US and Russians collaborating on a new joint improved shuttle now instead of resorting back to capsules. Yes, I know they're more cost effective, but shuttles are, well, cool. And the Soviets had the right idea of adding jet engines to the production model for safety and go arounds, even though we never lost a shuttle on that phase of flight. (Yes, jet engines were on the one that flew unmanned in 88).

Franko   October 4th, 2008 3:32 pm ET

Russian empire fell apart. Collapsed the Soviet space progress.
USA finncial communism for the Wall Street Commisars, same result ?

Cannot afford the future, export progress to China ?

Dan   October 4th, 2008 4:37 pm ET

The Buran does have some significant differences from the U.S. shuttle (no ascent engines, center of gravity in a different location), but it is quite definitely derived from the U.S. design.

This is not to belittle the achievement- the Buran flew into space and returned to earth entirely by remote control, which is something the U.S. shuttle has never done.

One can only wonder what Soviet designers could have come up with if they had been allowed to pursue their own considerable and unique talents, rather than being directed to "match" the west.

Jason P   October 4th, 2008 5:24 pm ET

There is also some sort of derelict shuttle at the Baikonur Cosmodrome according to this photo gallery and google earth imagery.,63.30979&z=18&t=H&marker0=45.85948%2C63.31336%2CBaikonur%20Cosmodrome%5C%2C%20Kazakhstan

BuranFlightPix   October 6th, 2008 9:49 am ET

Does anyone know of any pictures or videos of the actual Buran flight, when it actually launched and landed? Is the flight of this shuttle for real? Did it truly fly? One would think the engineers and developers would have plenty of documentary evidence of the actual flight, but I have yet to see any of it. Sure, there are static models of the Buran and a lot of hearsay about how it flew an 'automatic' flight, but scant evidence that it did. Also, did the Soviets ever take it atop a transport for release and glide tests? What about those pictures/videos? Has anyone seen any of those?

T. Henley   October 6th, 2008 10:32 am ET

Aaron Cooper, can you really write that without chuckling to yourself – "The Soviet shuttle only happens to look like the U.S. shuttle because they had to meet the same design criteria and be subject to the same stresses" "WHAT BULL $HIT". Is that why the Russians copied our WWII flying fortress right down to a patch on the wing? More contemporary design theft is the HUMMER. Ever see the Russian looks identical. We can go on and on......

David   October 6th, 2008 11:08 am ET

During the only launch of the Buran, no jet engines were attached:

only its own rocket motors and reaction/control jets. From the pic
it's not clear if the Buran's rocket motors were used during accent,
but I suspect not, given the symmetry of the exhaust plume about the
booster rocket. That's a major difference from the US shuttle.

If anyone has further info please post...


Bill Mosby   October 6th, 2008 12:56 pm ET

"Russians copied our WWII flying fortress right down to a patch on the wing.."

Not quite, they copied our WWII Superfortress, the B-29, and not the Flying Fortress, which was the B-17.

And that led to a number of follow-ons, the most famous of which is still in use today, the Tu-95 and Tu-142 versions of what we call the Bear bomber.

Philip Tanner   October 6th, 2008 1:23 pm ET

Dude. When did CNN stop doing simple grammar checks before publishing copy? If this is the future of "science writing" for the masses, the decline of civilization is imminent. Even Microsoft's grammar checker would've caught these mistakes:

IT-apostrophe-S is *never* a possessive! –>
>>Unlike it’s American counterpart

And just what the he$#^l does this mean? –>
>>...and put it on display in it specially built hangar

Chet   October 6th, 2008 3:36 pm ET

The Soviets shloud be proud of their accomplishments; nevertheless, we were first.

Mike Connor   October 6th, 2008 3:37 pm ET

Dan: The Soviets did one better then that. Buran flew the flight completely automated from launch right up to the moment it rolled to a stop on the runway. No remote control at all! Also it landed in the middle of a snow storm as well. In theory our shuttle could do that but NASA has never tried it because it might put the pilots out of a job.

Franko   October 6th, 2008 4:34 pm ET

"Soviets shloud be proud of their accomplishments; nevertheless, we were first"

Were is the concept, Egyptians were great Pyramid builders, Romans were great road builders. Just a Russian museum piece, or the Chinese have stolen the Buran plans, from US, who stole it from the Russians ?

China will mass produce the Buran, swarm and exploit the Solar System
Their Bible, IChing, YingYang, LouTszu, commanded.

Bob   October 6th, 2008 5:39 pm ET

IDo I understand you are saying the US stole shuttle plans from Russia ? The same shuttle that lifted off in Fla in 1981. that Russia didn't test until 1988?

Aussie Jane   October 6th, 2008 6:25 pm ET

NASA is going to kill off its shuttle program while Russia is going to keep its program. NASA will be relying on Russia to continue funding and building the ISS and using Soyuz shuttles. Our political saber rattling may tick off the Russians enough to withdraw its support of NASA and the ISS. Maybe it's better that we try to cooperate instead of succumb to nationalistic pride. Fine, you love America and hate Russia, what did you win? The point is that the Russo/Soviet space program was and is just as important as NASA's and it doesn't do any good to belittle either of them. It's not about who was first, but what did we learn? Mankind wants answers to the universe and nothing is going to stand in the way.

Franko   October 6th, 2008 6:58 pm ET

Buran is not the US shuttle. Later design, more advanced.
Buran plans, a prize for any spy, US or Chinese.
Will China build a complete different design,
One that reminds, looks the same, as the US dinosaur ?
Modern birds, also have wings, Shuttles, flying objects, Pterodactyl inspired ?   October 6th, 2008 9:23 pm ET

1. Only an idiot can look at Buran and not see similarities with the Shuttle.

2. Franko: Call the Shuttle whatever you want—dinosaur or daffodil—but it's "carried the mail" for almost 30 years.

3. Aussie Jane, no one's saying that we hate Russia. Russia has a long, proud history of space exploration, equal to our own. And we both have Nazi Germany to thank for that.

4. Being worried about Russia's actions near Georgia isn't the same as saber rattling. Russia is the only nation on earth that worries the US militarily right now. I'm not sure many sabers were rattled over here.

5. China just had its first spacewalk, Franko. Call me when you want me to be impressed 43 years ago.

Dan   October 6th, 2008 9:28 pm ET

Mike: I stand corrected. Quite an achievement. I always wondered whether they left out the ascent engines because the SSMEs were just too darn complex to replicate in the time they had.

The Energia booster that took Buran into space was the heaviest-capacity booster since the Saturn V. Nothing built since has approached either of these monsters in payload capacity.

James H   October 6th, 2008 10:12 pm ET

Having both worked on the Rockwell (now Boeing) B-1 and getting to go aboard the Russian TU-160 Blackjack, it is clear to me that though outside appearances may be similar, the execution of the concept can be extremely different. Where the Russians often use blunt force where we prefer finese, it must be said that their way works just as well on half the budget.

Brian P   October 6th, 2008 11:58 pm ET

Another Russian misstep, Mir, Buran, all completely avoidable from a logistical viewpoint. Launching via remote is not as hard as you may think, as the internal guidance system is well up to the task. European Space Agency's Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle is a most recent example. I do however question how far into orbit Buran went, with my best guess being suborbital flight. Landing configuration utilized jet propulsion while launch relied upon the Energia rockets.

Shuttles are pretty but serious exploration neccessitates rockets. Rocket staging is key to range. The current shuttle fleet is limited in orbital range with the highest orbit achieved being the Hubble Space Telescope (the orbiter will arrive at that orbit with about 49% propellant remaining)

The Chinese space program is likely to be the first space disaster resulting in the loss of life given their record of Quality Assurance (or blatant lack thereof)

TYLOR   October 7th, 2008 12:34 am ET

notice it was COMPUTER CONTROLLED!!! they never used it to put a man in space.

Franko   October 7th, 2008 1:01 am ET

TU-160 google «PRAVDA.Ru» "New arms race between Russia and USA may trigger star wars" - .” The race aggravated the crisis - USSR’s war in Afghanistan, which eventually made the country collapse”

Here we go again, another, in the long line of would be Afghan conquerors

Dan   October 7th, 2008 1:31 am ET

Sure, the shuttle "carried the mail", but not nearly as often as it was supposed to, and not nearly as cheaply as it was supposed to (in fact it has turned out to be far MORE expensive than expendable boosters), and your mail wouldn't get carried at all unless it was the right size, and the right weight, and had priority over everyone else's mail.

We need cost-effective rocket systems that support the mission, rather than define it.

Time to move on. Give the shuttles their honored places in museums, and move on.

Greg   October 7th, 2008 10:48 am ET

David, I thought that when Buran flew it had jet engines embedded in the, as was pointed out, had no ascent rockets in the tail. But, I'm relying on memory and could be wrong. Great pic, BTW!

BuranFlightPix, yes it did fly and was a major news story when it did...I recall seeing the landing (and contrary to another poster I don't recall a snowstorm) and was impressed with how precise it was.

Joe   October 7th, 2008 10:53 am ET

Nice freakn' picture of a model rocket David! No wonder there are NO pictures of this turkey ever flying!

jim   October 7th, 2008 12:05 pm ET

The summer Olympics WERE in Sydney

Bill Mosby   October 7th, 2008 3:52 pm ET

Actually, Greg, there was a snowstorm when Buran landed. Because that's what the word buran means in Russian. Somehow that part of the story has become muddled!

Franko   October 7th, 2008 10:54 pm ET

Fundamental design flaw, so basic, why US and USSR both missed it ?
The Cinese are getting it right. Yin is not Yang. Yang is not Yin
Girl and Boy different. Up and down are opposites

"Dr. Gene Ray, Cubic and King of Genius.
for Mom and Dad Opposites. You're Educated ONE Nitwits,"

All the education in US produced Nitwits, plans copied by USSR Nitwits.
Stupid, or simply dumb Nitwits, missed the simple up and down.
Mission, optimized for maximum to orbit, implies minimum to bring back.
The goal is to get heavy to orbit.

Buran Researcher   October 8th, 2008 3:32 pm ET

OK guys. Buran was not landing in snow storm. Yes, there are several dozens of short videos that were broadcasted and taped (I assume) by regular folks. Some (videos) have made it to the modern age. Here are some links:
The following video is mostly about "Mria", the airplane that was "dragging" Buran around, however there are lots of closeups for those who want to learn more about Buran.
This one has few shots of Buran being accompanied by Russian fighters. The narrator in the video claims that Russians started their Buran because they assumed that US Shuttle Program was the next step in nuclear arms race. Video has LOTS of shots of pre-Buran projects.

Another interesting comment. Russians were building 10 shuttles at the same time!!!

Frank   October 8th, 2008 3:58 pm ET

Here is a great site on the Buran, by Molniya, the Russian design bureau that built the vehicle:

The shuttle in the photo in this article was what is referred to as an "analog". It was used strictly for approach and landing testing. The Molniya web site states "For working up the most responsible (I think they meant "demanding") flight phase – landing approach and landing – the BURAN flying prototype was constructed. In general it distinguished from the orbital vehicle by installation of four turbojet engines and accordingly by capability of an independent takeoff from the airfield." So, there's your answer about the engines – they were NOT on the actual Buran that flew into space. That vehicle landed like a glider, just like the U.S. shuttle.

The U.S. Shuttle was and is much more sophisticated than Buran ever was. We had a far larger budget to build ours, as has usually been the case when Russian/Soviet space hardware and ours is compared. However, through boldness and determination, the Russians have built a long list of space achievements that they can rightly be proud of. Their space program and ours has been compared often to the fable of the rabbit and the turtle. They move steadily along, always building on their past, while we here in the U.S. tend to always be reinventing the wheel with our space program, moving ahead in starts and stops.

Also remember that the U.S. space shuttle as is was the result of what happens when money is appropriated by policticians. In order to get the votes needed, a lot of $$ was no doubt wasted in pork barrel spending – doling out bits and pieces of the production to different states to get their Congressmen to sign on to it. The we had the DOD get involved, and the Shuttle became the do-all and end-all of space exploration for us. I seem to recall that, for a while, it became ILLEGAL in this country to send a satellite into space on an expendable launch vehicle!

OK, enough from me.

Carl   October 9th, 2008 12:07 am ET

A few points about the Soviet space program:
1. They were not nearly as advanced as the US. Check out their success sending spacecraft to Mars.
2. The Buran flew by remote/computer control because they didn't have the confidence to put humans in it, not because they were so advanced. No manned aircraft flies like that even now.
3. Who knows what really happened with the Buran. Maybe it had serious problems. They didn't always share details with the public.

Norvin Adams III   October 9th, 2008 5:40 am ET

All about Buran...

Buran Researcher   October 9th, 2008 12:02 pm ET

Buran program ran out of money. My uncle was working for the R&D department in Energia (Энергия). Their funds were melting faster than a piece of ice in August's heat. To confirm some previous members of this blog, yes Buran flight was 100% controlled by computers. No, they did not consider it to unsafe for people, in fact the pilots petitioned the government to allow them to fly first. Petition was denied. There were 2 objectives. First – Russians were looking to prove that 100% automatic delivery platform for huge payload of nukes is possible. Second – achieve and fully test the highest possible payload at the low cost. Energia was and still is the largest and the most powerful booster. While US is using solid fuels Russians went the opposite way. People were laughing that Energia is flying on water. Oxygen (cooled to -186°C) and hydrogen (about -255°C) were mixed together and provided low cost (but highly explosive) alternative to solids. There were several attempts to revive the program. My personal opinion Russians use the disposable rockets for the very much the same reason we have regular hammer and pneumatic tools. Hammer is cheap and simple to operate. There is another, rarely discussed issue. Each time Russians put their rocket into space they confirm to themselves and to the rest of the world that their ICBMs can fly and they fly with very high percentage of success.

News From Space! - The Original Space Weblog » Soviet Shuttle Finally Gets a Home   October 16th, 2008 11:32 am ET

[...] finally landed in a museum.  After a long history and a virtual world tour, a Shuttle Buran was put on permanent display to the public on Friday at the “Technik Museum Speyer” near Manheim, Germany. This entry is [...]   April 19th, 2011 9:14 am ET

Soviet shuttle finally gets a home.. WTF? 🙂

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