Cosmonaut: Buran built to drop bombs, was safer than U.S. shuttle

You're probably somewhat familiar with Buran, the Soviet take on the U.S. space shuttle. Buran had its one and only launch in 1988, and the program was cancelled in 1993, but the intended capabilities of the vehicle have remained classified. Now, a veteran Cosmonaut has provided some new insights into the program.

New Scientist spoke with cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, who has spent nearly a year in space and is currently an instructor at Russia's Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, and asked for details about what the goals were for the Buran program and how it compared to the U.S. shuttle. Here are a few juicy excerpts:

The idea [with Buran] was to drop weapons from orbit?

It was originally designed as a military system for weapon delivery, maybe even nuclear weapons. A shuttle is particularly useful for this because it can change its orbit and trajectory - so an attack from it is almost impossible to protect against. But the need for such military applications ended.

In what ways would Buran have differed from NASA's shuttle orbiter?

In terms of escape systems it would have allowed all of a crew to escape at any stage of the flight; even on the launch pad there was an escape pod. The NASA shuttle crew does not have this opportunity. Buran had ejector seats for all crew members. And that includes those sitting in the mid-deck, who had seats that ejected sideways.

As it was clearly based on the US shuttle, would Buran have suffered from dangerous external tank foam loss as the shuttle Columbia did?

No. The shape of the spacecraft might have been the same but the operational idea for Buran was absolutely different. This was because we had no external tank: the Buran orbiter was attached to an Energia rocket, not a tank. And that rocket needed no foam on its surface.

It's worth reiterating Kotov's comment that the way Buran operated was significantly different than the U.S. shuttle. Despite a strikingly similar cosmetic appearance, Buran didn't use its own engines to get to orbit (necessitating a large external fuel tank); rather, the big thing that looks like a fuel tank is actually a giant booster rocket that Buran rides to space.

Check out the rest of the interview at the link below.

Via New Scientist

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