There were two Burans. The Russian space shuttle program was the largest and most expensive in Soviet space exploration history.
While the Buran and Shuttle look remarkably similar from a distance, and are only a few centimeters different in size, the launch vehicles are quite different.
In several ways, the Buran may have been a safer design than the shuttle. It did its first (and only) test flight autonomously, putting no astronauts at risk. It used only liquid fuel (no segmented solid boosters with their o-rings). And it provided an escape system for all of the astronauts on board. In contrast, the U.S. Space Shuttle, from STS-5 onward had no escape mechanism for the astronauts at the pad or during launch, a unique feature of that program.
That’s where this artifact comes in. The Zvezda K-36RB ejection seat controls were hand activated release levers located between the knees of each astronaut on Buran.
Hatches would oven overhead, and a solid rocket would propel the astronauts away, much like the escape system in Russian fighter jets. The escape system would work at the pad and through launch up through speeds of Mach 3, and then again on reentry were an emergency to occur. The computer controlled five different modes of ejection, to cover the different phases from pre-launch to landing.
The first flight was planned for 1994, with two ejection seats for — Igor Volk (commander) and Aleksandr Ivanchenko (flight engineer). The Soviet Union collapsed instead, and the program was cancelled in 1993.
The purpose of the vehicle was classified but in a recent interview, cosmonaut Oleg Kotov spoke openly:
“It was originally designed as a military system for weapon delivery, maybe even nuclear weapons. A shuttle is particularly useful for this because it can change its orbit and trajectory - so an attack from it is almost impossible to protect against. But the need for such military applications ended.”