This is a prototype of a space vehicle called Buran, which was the Soviet Union’s answer to the US space shuttle. It’s just sitting up on blocks in Gorky Park in the center of Moscow. If I were a kid I think it’d be pretty cool to play on, but it certainly doesn’t look like a trailblazer into a bold new future for humankind.
The Soviets’ space shuttle program was not very successful. For one thing they started late. Afraid that the American space shuttle could have significant military capabilities, the Russians decided they needed one of their own. But the USSR was cash-strapped in the 1980s and on the verge of falling apart. They were fighting a disastrous war in Afghanistan (a subject of a previous Earth post) and just couldn’t afford costly space adventures. The Buran flew once, in 1988, on an unmanned test mission. The collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe the next year sort of spoiled the Russians’ plans. After the USSR broke up in 1991, the new Russian Federation government didn’t really have its heart in continuing the program, which was cancelled in 1993.
There are rumors that the Russians want to try to revive Buran, but I don’t think they will. I mean, even in the US we’ve ended our own space shuttle programs and send the ships to museums. A space shuttle is now as antiquated as an Apple II computer. I think we’re done with space shuttles. Let’s move on to something else.
You can read about the Soviet space shuttle program here.