Ralph Mirebs is an Urban explorer and when he was in Kazakhstan, an ex-soviet republic in Central Asia when he found out about the amazing abandoned place that everybody kept talking about in the country. The structure was Soviet-era and was widely thought to have been used for cutting-edge experiments by the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos State Corporation. Now the Russian agency is still operational even after the breakup of the Soviet Union as its largest launchpad, the Baikonur Cosmodrome still lies in Kazakhstan and not Russia itself. But, just like many of the things that Soviets left behind, this particular site was also neglected for almost two and a half decades before people realized what it was and Ralph Mirebs was one of the first to photograph it. It lies only a few miles away from the main cosmodrome.
At first, the building appeared like a large aircraft hanger and had all sorts of cutting-edge technology of that era but a peek inside shows the amazing thing present within the hanger. Here, take a look:
Now the Buran Space program was started in 1974 when Russian and USA were still engaged in heavy space supremacy battles and the station was meant to produce cutting-edge shuttles for future projects. It worked very well for over a decade and half before it was closed in 1988 by the Soviets since they were starting to vacate Central Asia. But, Baikonur was retained as a launchpad and Buran was not. The hanger remained operational till 1993 and then it was sealed off with two shuttles inside.
Three shuttles were made here. One of these got destroyed when the old hanger collapsed above it. The other two are still there and collecting rust. It is sad to see such a huge investment of time and money going to waste like this. The facility was a cutting-edge development in which atmospheric pressure controlled systems were present and dust and debris never found its way inside. Now it is turning into a ruin.
The shuttles are covered with dirt, bird droppings and rust in every nook and cranny. Surprisingly, when the Russians left, many of the things they handed over were ruined by vandals across Central Asia and Afghanistan. But, this hanger has seen little or no vandalization. Perhaps people respect what they represent and have only resorted to taking photos.
These images are quite surreal in appearance and remind us how even giant structures like these bite the dust if not taken care.
Now the Baikonur cosmodrome is the only place where a shuttle can be launched into space. Even American satellites themselves get launched from here as the space program has become much more shared in recent years with Russian, Europeans and Asians working together very closely.