For years it’s sat abandoned in a dilapidated hangar in Kazakhstan, visited only by intrepid urban explorers keen to photograph a spectacular if unloved piece of space history.
But after graffiti was recently spray painted on the side of a Soviet space shuttle, prompting online outrage, it could soon face a different fate.
At least one Buran resuable spacecraft — closely modeled on the US Space Shuttle — currently sits in storage at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, a remote active spaceport about 1,500 miles southeast of Moscow.
Only one Buran mission was ever completed, in 1988, a year before the Berlin Wall came down. As the Soviet Union eventually broke apart, the space program was suspended and eventually canceled.
While one full-scale test model is currently housed in a museum at Baikonur and one was destroyed by a roof collapse, at least one more sits in storage at the disused hangar. It was this that was apparently targeted with graffiti.
The Russian state news agency TASS this week quoted the country’s space agency Roscosmos saying a “group of unidentified persons infiltrated the Baikonur cosmodrome facility” before decorating the side of the Buran craft.
Images of the apparent graffiti were then posted on Instagram and then shared widely — including by many upset by the incident. The original posts can no longer be found online.
According to TASS, the graffiti included the inscriptions “Yura, we have arrived” — an apparent reference to Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin — and “Before climbing to the stars, a person needs to learn to live on Earth.”
Lana Sator, a Russian photographer and urban explorer whose images have a worldwide following, has previously visited the Baikonur shuttle hangar. She was among those to denounce those behind the graffiti.
“They stained a cool abandonment site,” she told CNN. “I went there about two years ago. Before me there were hundreds and after me hundreds, and none of them took a s–t there, because the place itself is almost sacred.”
Sator said that while the location of the Baikonur facility is relatively remote and involved a 35 kilometer hike at night, accessing the shuttle location was easy. She said on-site security guards were friendly.
She added: “It’s understandable that any derelict site has a lifespan, but it’s a shame that this place is about to see such a disgusting finale.”
While many lamented what they viewed as an act of desecration on a piece of Soviet space history, the incident may actually help efforts to preserve the spacecraft.
Roscosmos said the possible relocation of the shuttles would be raised at the next meeting of Russian and Kazakh government officials.
“The State Corporation Roscosmos conciders it necessary to quickly make a decision on the transfer of unique objects to one of the museums of cosmonautics” it said in a statement. “Roscosmos is ready to discuss the terms of such a decision”
Sator said she would prefer to see the spacecraft preserved in place. “I think that the shuttles should not be removed anywhere, but they could transform all the building where they are kept into a museum.”