Like most of Soviet/Russian aerospace the Buran Spacecraft is still an enigma. Buran was seen from the outset as a carbon copy of the NASA’s Space Shuttle and from the picture below, the case can be easily made.
However, Amy Shira Teitel at ARS Technica has another aspect to the story:
Faced with the poorly understood threat of a military space shuttle, the Soviets decided that copying the American spacecraft exactly was the best bet. The logic was simple: if the Americans were planning something that needed a vehicle that big, the Soviets ought to build one as well and be ready to match their adversary even if they didn’t know exactly what they were matching.
Cold war “misunderstandings” as to the purpose of the Space Shuttle program? I’m not so sure but it makes for interesting reading. The Space Shuttle was designed to take military payloads into orbit and was tested at the US military’s space launch facility at Vandenberg, AFB (rolled up to the launch pad but not launched) but the Challenger disaster changed all that. The military applications for space are just too beneficial to ignore.
Go check out the article at ARS Technica, it makes for some interesting history.
The Buran is now on display at various locations in Russia and Europe. Check out the airliners.net collection.