ENERGIA - BURAN
Probably one of the most intriguing but anyway frustrating sides of the Soviet space program was Buran, the analog of the US Space Shuttle. The program takes its roots from mid 60s when a Spiral orbiting rocket-plane concept has been developed resulting in a small-size flying prototype coming into late 70s before its closure in favor of more promising Buran. Spiral reached its flight testing phase though never left the Earth atmosphere and served as foundation for BOR testing vehicles used to workout Buran aerodynamics and thermodynamics technologies. BOR 4 performed four space flights under the designation of Kosmos satellites. The first two splashed down in the Indian Ocean and were recovered by Soviet tracking ships. These events were tightly monitored by western surveillance and got to be widely publicized.
Officially Energia-Buran complex got its green light in 1976 after the US Space Shuttle details were received by the Soviet military intelligence and appropriate report has been presented to the Minister of Defense. Buran made its only spaceflight on November 15, 1988 in the unmanned mode, despite the readiness of the crew (Igor Volk and Rimantas Stankevičius). In 1990 all the Energia-Buran activities were frozen and in 1993 the program seized to exist, though there was no formal closure.
In Soviet and Russian philately Buran was highly symbolic and got fair attention on stamps, special cancellations and covers despite the one and only unmanned spaceflight. Besides Russia Buran was noted in Kazakhstan and Ukraine - Leonid Kadeniuk, first independent Ukrainian astronaut, was taking active part in Buran testing and trained for Buran crew commander. 25th anniversary of Buran spaceflight in 2013 was marked by several BaikonurSvyazInform (BSI) designed covers and stamped cachets as well as private issues.
Buran "almost flown" covers
10,000 covers have been prepared in cooperation between Kniga and Glavkosmos for flying during the first unmanned flight of the Buran spaceship in 1988. For some reason 1.000 have been destroyed and the box with 8.900 remaining covers was removed from the spaceship shortly before launch by the order of chief designer Yuri Semyonov. All these covers received numbers and were signed by Kniga deputy CEO. These covers are often referred as "almost flown Buran covers". Despite a high number they are looked for by astrophilately collectors and seldom available on the trading grounds.
There was another small box of 100 covers may has been left in the flight deck of Buran spaceship and flew twice orbits in the spaceship. There are some rumors that this box stayed in the Buran spaceship despite Semoyonov's order, but it is not totally confirmed. Those covers are not numbered and bear inscription on the backside - "not for sale".
Later Yuri Semyonov explained, that he would have not prevented them to be flown, if he has known that they were to be sold in favor of Armenian earthquake victims.
info taken from www.luna-spacestamps.de
Built in 1984 OK-GLI (BST-002) was the Soviet equivalent of the American Enterprise ALT vehicle with the ability to take off and land using its own turbojets. The spacecraft accomplished only 24 test flights but its early retirement proved to be far from quiet and honorable. This story can be a good foundation for a criminal TV show but I will not dive into details just mention the milestones. Actually there is more to tell than to show in terms of astrophilately so I decided to put some pictures from the internet to make the reading less boring.
After the closure of Buran program in 1993, OK-GLI took part in several MAKS air shows and in 2000 has been leased to the Australian company to be exhibited during summer Olympics in Sydney. The details of this deal remain confidential until now but there are rumors that the amount was not paid as the company went bankrupt before the event cancelling the show. It stayed in Australia until 2002 and was bought by a Singaporean company which took the spacecraft to Bahrain for its first airshow. Upon one version - Singaporeans have paid initial part and tried to cheat on NPO Molnia to get the OK-GLI without paying the rest using forged documents, another version claims a corruption of the NPO Molnia leadership who have made certain arrangements and sold the vehicle for a ridicules amount plus “a solid personal commission”. A couple of years later journalists have found OK-GLI resting on the sandy field in Bahrein, this info got to the Russian Consulate and generated an official ricochet that led to criminal investigation. Despite heavy legal pressure from Singaporeans, Russians managed to ban the further OK-GLI transportation and reclaimed the ownership. In 2004 it was sold to German privately owned Speyer Technik museum. This deal had several faces as well and the amount is uncertain. OK-GLI remained in Bahrein until 2008 when all the NPO Molnia legal suits were completed and started its final voyage to Germany in March 2008. A month later it arrived to Rotterdam and was transported on barge by the Rhine River to Speyer. The exhibition has been opened on October 3, 2008 and it looks OK-GLI finally found its home.
On the shown cover prepared by Ralf Shultz of Hoyerswerda (and mailed to him) a well-known picture of Mriya An-225-Buran complex at Paris Air Show in 1989 and a special pictorial cancellation devoted to an Astrophilately meeting in Speyer Technik Museum in 2011. In 2013 a local postal service provider – RegioPost Pfalz, issued a series of Technik Museum stamps, one of them devoted to the exhibited OK-GLI.
Quite unusual official Buran themed cover commemorating 1991 Cosmonautics day. The cover itself is very common and can be seen frequently but .. it bears unique mixture of Kazakh, Russian and Soviet stamps plus USSR surcharge stamped mark. Now let us try to figure out what is this all about?
Need to mention that until 1993 the official currency of Kazakhstan was soviet ruble, so there is quite obvious that postage tariffs could be paid by both Kazakh and USSR stamps. The mixture of Kazakh official issues and overprinted soviet definitive is not uncommon those days as well. The main issue is the appearance of the Russian Federation stamps on the surcharged cover.
The explanation came from the experienced collectors – on many occasions Russian philatelists supplied unaddressed covers to their Kazakh colleagues as almost no covers were printed in Kazakhstan by early 1990s. Those covers came from different stocks and frequently had stamps applied to it as well as various postmarks. This fact did not bothered postal officials in Kazakhstan who processed the letter to Lithuania as far as it was properly paid, cancelling all the stamps that appeared on the cover.
With all the mosaic this cover is genuine posted item by all means, just another reminder of the post-soviet turmoil...