The urban explorations of Russian photographer Ralph Mirebs
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 21

The urban explorations of Russian photographer Ralph Mirebs

Abandoned Soviet space shuttles, Kazahstan 2015. Photo by Ralph Mirebs

Starting in 1974 and ending in 1993 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Soviet space shuttle Buran program wasn't very successful even when it had funding. Buran, essentially Russian for 'blizzard', was the name for the line of spacecrafts as well as the first model in the series, the Buran Orbiter OK-1K1. The unmanned Orbiter K1 shuttle completed a single spaceflight on November 15th, 1988. The first vehicle in space to operate without manual control, the K1 shuttle orbited the earth twice over the course of 3 hours and 25 minutes. Unfortunately, in 2002, the K1 was destroyed in a Kazakhstani earthquake near the Baikonur Cosmodrome when the roof of the MIK hangar in which it resided collapsed, killing several workers.

Following the accident, the second shuttle in the Buran line known as the OK-1K2 and affectionately dubbed as Ptichka, or 'little bird', was moved to the dilapidated MKZ building. That's where urban explorer and photojournalist Ralph Mirebs discovered it and took a series of images of the forgotten shuttle that ultimately went viral. Construction on the the flight-ready K2, the shuttle furthest forward in this shot, was commenced in 1988, achieving roughly 95% build completion when the program was shut down. It never left the ground.

What is perhaps so shocking about Mirebs' photo series is that despite never flying, the shuttles are broken and bruised with inner mechanics that have been largely ransacked by pilferers. Externally, the Buran shuttles are covered in filth and bird droppings, a harsh contrast to what was the pinnacle of technology only twenty years ago. Mireb says that he prefers to concentrate on documenting the experience of a site rather than aesthetics, and thanks to this approach his photo essay on the Buran shuttles is a succinct critique on the legacy of the Cold War and what was left behind when the Soviet Union collapsed. (continued on next slide)