Touchdown at Technical Museum: Russian Space Shuttle Navigates Rhine River

A Soviet spacecraft is making an unusual journey down the Rhine River this week. The historic Buran vehicle is on its way from the shipyards in Rotterdam to its new home at a technical museum in Speyer, Germany.

After many trips both above and around the Earth, a historic Soviet spacecraft is now making its way to what will probably be its final home. But it's getting there by an unusual means -- it's traveling by barge down the Rhine River, en route to its new home at a transportation museum in southwest Germany.

The Technik Museum Speyer bought the decommissioned Buran space shuttle and had it shipped from a junkyard in Bahrain to Rotterdam.

After arriving in Rotterdam last week, the 37-meter (121-feet) shuttle was re-assembled and lowered onto a raft of barges for its trip through the Rhine to Speyer. The shuttle began the 620-kilometer (385-mile) journey upriver on Sunday.

The Buran -- the name means "blizzard" in Russian -- was built by the Soviet Union as a near-copy of the American space shuttles that made its first flight in 1977. The Soviet Union feared that US space shuttles would be used for military purposes, and began developing their own copycat spacecraft technology in the late 1970s.

The shuttle which is on its way to Speyer is named the Analog Buran. One of several test models, it made 25 suborbital flights between 1985 and 1988, before the program was abandoned as the Soviet Union broke apart.

A decade later, a team of Australian entrepreneurs purchased the Analog Buran and put it on display during the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney. However poor ticket sales grounded their plans to take the shuttle on tour, and it sat neglected for a year until a new company purchased it and moved it to Bahrain. There, it anchored an exhibit during a summer festival in 2002, before being shipped to a junkyard to wait out a legal dispute between its new owners and its Russian manufacturers.

The Buran languished in the junkyard for almost five years, until the German museum secured its purchase and arranged for it to be sent by ship and barge to Speyer.

The spacecraft started its slow seaborne journey last month. It was disassembled and lowered into the hull of a ship that took it through the Suez Canal and the Strait of Gibraltar, then around Portugal, through the English Channel and on to Rotterdam.

At midday Monday, the Buran was floating past Xanten, a town in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

The museum is building a new exhibition hall to house the Russian space shuttle alongside items like space suits and model satellites. "Apollo and Beyond," as the permanent exhibit will be called, is scheduled to open to visitors this summer.

pmm/reuters

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