In the late-1980's, while the US space program was grounded after the Challenger disaster, Russia was quietly evaluating re-usable launch vehicles itself. (It is rumoured that the US sold shuttle plans to Russia, I don't have reliable information either way.) The Russian space program placed great importance on the ability of a spacecraft to land without human intervention, both to increase the possible uses for the vehicle, and to allow for cosmonauts to be returned to Earth safely, even if incapacitated. To that end, this shuttle (their second and last) was built soley for developing and testing the automated return system. The result is that this shuttle has never left the atmosphere, has no rocket engines, but does have conventional jet turbines and a rather large kerosene tank in the payload bay. Whilst the technology does work, the Russians realised that for about what it cost to launch a reusable shuttle once, a non-reusable Energia (Russian equivalent of the US Saturn V) could be built and launched, with about three times the payload. I wonder whether NASA has done the same calculation. The Buran is in Australia for several years for public viewing. Just before I left Australia, I visited it with Lydia and Andrew. Andrew spent most of the visit asleep.
3600 hours in simulators, more than 1100 sorties in real aircraft. I'm guessing that I'll never be a shuttle pilot :-) Trivia: In September 2001, Gromov sold the TU-144 mentioned on this sign, through eBay! Stranger still, they sold it without the engines, or more to the point, they sold it on the condition that they'd fly it to your airport of choice and then remove the engines and take them back to Moscow.