In the Soviet Union interest in a reusable space plane began in the 1950s. After several incomplete design projects, the Soviets revived the effort in the 1980s. At the time of the early U.S. Space Shuttle launches, the Soviets were testing an unmanned scale model shuttle. Amid much speculation and after many delays, the Soviet Union launched its first full-scale reusable space shuttle, Buran (Snowstorm), on November 15, 1988. Although the Buran had been tested extensively in the Earth's atmosphere with trained pilots, its maiden, and only, orbital flight was without a pilot.
The Buran was launched by the Energiia launch vehicle, the largest among Soviet launch vehicles, and resembles the American shuttle closely. Two Burans were manufactured and prepared for launch, but after a single unpiloted mission and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the program was cancelled.
Boris Nikolaevich Yeltsin, the first democratically elected president of Russia, presented these models of the Soviet Buran spacecraft and Energia launch vehicle to the Smithsonian Institution in June 1992, during a summit in Washington D.C. with American President George H. W. Bush. These models commemorate the first launches of the Energia launch vehicle in May 1987 and the Buran shuttle in November 1988.
Gift of the Russian Federation