By Mark McConville
STUNNING pictures have revealed the abandoned Soviet space shuttle lying disused and forgotten in a desolate hangar.
The incredible images show the spacecraft rotting in the hangar untouched for years, an aerial view of the awesome shuttle and the tiny hatch astronauts would have used lying open.
Other striking shots show the rest of the grounds and remains of the Buran space program, the computer equipment left behind and the dishevelled offices.
The remarkable photographs were taken in Baikonur, Kazakhstan by freelance journalist Andrei Ghilan (33), from Chisinau, Moldova.
“For two days my friend and I travelled through the desert to get to the territory of Baikonur, where space rockets are still taking off,” he said.
“On the territory of Baikonur are abandoned hangars, inside of which you can see the abandoned shuttle Buria and its mock-up. The hangars are located near the active sites and facilities.
“When we got inside hangar we were numb and speechless. We could not say a word for a long time. In the hall stood the Buria, and a little further away — its overall copy. Over them, frightened by our invasion, doves circled.
“The fuselages of ships, like the altars of an ancient sanctuary, were illuminated by the rays of the morning sun penetrating from above the hangar. We found ourselves in the present temple of engineering thought. We looked at the winged deity, opening our mouths with admiration and vexation. How so?
“An iron bird born to fly to the stars, remained for decades imprisoned in a reinforced concrete cage. Engineers and scientists have solved millions of tasks in order to raise it to the sky. Now the creation of their minds turned out to be of no use to anyone.”
Buran was the first spaceplane to be produced as part of the Soviet/Russian Buran programme. As a result of the collapse of the roof of the hangar in which it was located, the rocket Buran was damaged and cut to pieces.
Soviet engineers created the so-called product 1.02 or Buran 1.02 — the second flight instance. It was called the Buria.
For the second rocket plane, a more complex mission was intended. It was supposed to make a second flight in 1992 in automatic mode with docking with the manned Mir station, with a visit to the crew in orbit and subsequent automatic landing. Due to lack of funds, the program was closed and Buran 1.02 did not take off.
The journey to photograph the abandoned spacecraft was a dangerous one according to Andrei who explained the problems he faced along the way.
“Water, or rather its absence, frightened us the most,” he said.
“Here in a radius of tens of kilometres there is not one source of drinking water. We were carrying thirty-kilogram backpacks with water, a tent, food, change clothes and photo equipment.
“We were deprived of mobile communications. Everything that connected with civilization is just a GPS signal. For tens of kilometres there was not a soul. Even a dislocated leg here could turn into a tragedy.
“In addition, these hangars are located on the territory, which is guarded as a secret military facility.”