The Buran spaceplane was the Soviet Union’s answer to NASA’s Space Shuttle, though the vehicle only traveled to orbit once, in November 1988, without a crew.
In the decades since that era, two Buran-class shuttles have been collecting dust in a warehouse at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, abandoned save for urban explorers who periodically sneak into the complex to behold these Cold War vestiges.
Now, many space enthusiasts are expressing distress and disgust as images showing recent vandalization of the shuttles by graffiti artists at the dilapidated site have surfaced.
On Wednesday, Arseniy Kotov, a photographer who documents post-Soviet architecture, shared photos of the spray-painted spacecraft on Instagram, calling the vandalism “a disgusting act” that “deserves condemnations.”
Images of the vandalism and a screenshot of a since-deleted post from the alleged perpetrator’s Instagram account also appeared on the Telegram feed of state broadcaster RIA Novosti. It’s unclear when, exactly, the graffitiing occurred, since the Instagram post was made on May 16, but a follow-up post by RIA Novosti said that a source told the outlet that the vandalism occurred in April and has since been cleaned up. The post from the broadcaster included a photo of a clean-looking spacecraft.
Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, also weighed in on the incident, tweeting that Russian officials will raise the issue of preserving unique objects at the Cosmodrome at the next meeting of the Intergovernmental Kazakh-Russian Commission on Baikonur.
The next-generation version of the Buran, nicknamed Ptichka, was scrapped in 1993 before it could be fully completed due to the economic breakdown of post-Soviet Russia, which ended the ill-fated program.
The vandalism of the Buran vehicles is just the latest episode that underscores the need for more robust protection and preservation of artifacts from this bygone spaceplane. The spacecraft also attracted attention in 2002 when a hangar at Baikonur collapsed, killing eight people and destroying the one Buran vehicle that actually made it to orbit in 1988.