Back in Space

Soviets Unveil Shuttle As Discovery Goes Up

The New York Times

MOSCOW, Sept. 29, 1988 -- The Soviet Union released the first photographs of its secret space shuttle today.

In a move that stole some of the thunder from the launching of the space shuttle Discovery by the United States, the official Soviet press agency Tass released photos of the Soviet craft, which resembles the American shuttle.

The photos moved on the agency's wires about the time the Discovery was scheduled to blast off from Cape Canaveral. The agency also transmitted a brief dispatch on the American launching.

Public Gets First Glimpse

The Soviet shuttle was not previously shown to the public, although some Western reconnaissance photographs of the craft, or mockup versions, have been taken.

The Tass photos showed the Soviet spacecraft against a twilight sky, with its black-tipped white wings and fuselage. The letters ''CCCP'' appeared in red on one wing.

State-run Soviet television did not broadcast the Discovery launching, but showed a film clip of the American craft on the launching pad in darkness. An announcer read a report on the blastoff in a regularly scheduled newscast minutes later.

Vremya, the evening television news program that is watched by millions of Soviets, showed photographs of the Soviet shuttle as its third news item and said ground tests of its equipment were continuing. It showed film of the Discovery's launching about 20 minutes later.

Radio Moscow's international newscast carried reports about the Discovery launching with updates on the Soviet space station Mir and the three astronauts aboard.

Resembles the American Craft

Despite repeated comments by Soviet officials that their shuttle has a distinct design and capabilities, the Tass photographs indicated that the craft resembled the American version. The Soviet shuttle, under development since at least 1982, has delta-shaped wings, as does the Discovery, and is attached to its booster rocket, the Energia, in a similar way as the American craft.

In the photographs of the Soviet craft, the booster and the shuttle stood upright on tarmac, apparently at the Baikonur Astrodome in Soviet Central Asia, but it was not clear if the craft was stationed at a launching pad.

Soviet officials have said their shuttle would be launched by the end of the year, but they have not given a date and have acknowledged that technical problems are causing delays.

They also cite the Jan. 28, 1986, explosion of the shuttle Challenger, which killed the crew of seven people and led to a two-and-a-half-year suspension in the American manned space program, as an example of hazards they are trying to prevent. The Soviet shuttle's first flight is to be unmanned.

The Energia booster has been tested once, on May 15, 1987, when it successfully carried aloft a dummy spacecraft.

GRAPHIC: Photo of a reusable spacecraft being prepared for launching (Reuters)

Copyright 1988 The New York Times Company