Photos: Soviet Shuttle Dreams To Dust

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The three surviving space shuttle orbiters – Atlantis, Discovery, and Endeavour – and the atmospheric test article Enterprise are proudly ensconced in museums around the U.S., but the Soviet-era Buran is a forgotten relic.

A Buran flew one unpiloted mission in 1988, returning intact to the long runway near its launch pad on the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Although superficially a twin of the U.S. orbiters, Buran was the only one to land on autopilot.

There are a few surviving mockups -– notably in Moscow’s Gorky Park -– but the flightworthy Buran was destroyed on May 12, 2002, when a roof at Baikonur’s Site 112 collapsed, apparently from a combination of poor maintenance and a heavy burden of snow.

The collapse is believed to have killed eight maintenance workers. It crushed the flight Buran, which was mounted horizontally on a version of the massive Energia launch vehicle that carried it to orbit. The mishap also destroyed Energia components that had been mothballed in the same gigantic structure.

These photos of Site 112 today, with the remains of the flight hardware and the Energia elements, were posted on social media by a recent Russian visitor to Baikonur.

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