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Full Coverage: Radio station's shuttle sale

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Auction fails to sell Buran, still for sale
By Jim Banke, SPACE.com

May 23, 2002 — A Los Angeles radio station's effort to auction off a Russian Buran space shuttle ended Wednesday with no sale.

The asking price of $6 million proved too much for any legitimate bidders, said Willie Whyte, chief executive officer of Los Angeles-based First FX, Inc., a company that helps people manage online trading on the Foreign Exchange.

"We'll go away and lick our wounds," Whyte said.

Whyte's firm is acting as an agent for NPO Molniya, the Russian organization that owns a pair of Buran shuttles, and will collect an unspecified commission if they are able to broker a deal to sell the shuttle.

"We'll just continue our search and marketing through the channels we were doing before," Whyte said.

Several bids were submitted in the hours following the auction's start on May 10, but a quick check of credentials proved all to be pranks. Organizers said they had no plans to file charges.

Buran — Russian for snowstorm — is the name of the Russian shuttle that made one unmanned spaceflight in November 1988.

It circled Earth twice, landed automatically and since then has sat in storage at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. On May 12 the vehicle was damaged by falling debris when portions of the roof of the building the Buran was in collapsed.

Several other copies of the Russian shuttle were built as part of a test program and through the years have all become known by the name Buran.

Of those, one Buran was turned into a space-themed restaurant at Gorky Park in Moscow and another was given a fresh coat of paint before going on display for more than a year in Sydney, Australia during the time of the 2000 Summer Olympic Games.

It was the Buran in Sydney that L.A. radio listeners were bidding on.

Although the auction is closed, the Buran still is available through First FX for $6 million, Whyte said.

"It's certainly still the asking price. Would that be a little soft? Maybe, I don't know, but $6 million is where we're at," Whyte said.

Interested parties can contact Whyte through the company's Web site at www.fxfirst.com

The preceding article was reprinted with permission of SPACE.com, where it first appeared.




Russian shuttle on auction block
By Jim Banke, SPACE.com


May 9, 2002 — A Los Angeles radio station is planning to auction off a Russian Buran space shuttle and the minimum asking price is $6 million.

News 980 KFWB-AM will start accepting bids for the used ship on the station's web site at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) Friday. The auction closes May 22 at 6 p.m. EDT (2200 GMT).

And though there are certainly people in the Southern California area who might be able to afford their own spaceplane — Tom Cruise has been suggested in particular — auction organizers are not really expecting it to sell.

"We're looking at it like it probably won't, but it's just a lot of fun and people will have a good time with it," said Pam Baker, director of marketing and sales for KFWB-AM's web site.

Buran — Russian for snowstorm — is the name of the Russian shuttle that made one unmanned spaceflight in November 1988.

It circled Earth twice, landed automatically and since then has more or less sat in storage at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan — along with at least one other fully-built shuttle that has been called Ptichka, which means "little bird."

Several other copies of the Russian shuttle were built as part of a test program and through the years have all become known by the name Buran.

Of those, one Buran was turned into a space-themed restaurant at Gorky Park in Moscow and another was given a fresh coat of paint before going on display for more than a year in Sydney, Australia during the time of the 2001 Summer Olympic Games.

No one associated with the auction in the United States is sure exactly which Buran it is that the potential winning bidder will take possession of, said Willie Whyte, chief executive officer of Los Angeles-based First FX, Inc., a company that helps people manage online trading on the Foreign Exchange.

Admitting he wouldn't know one space shuttle from another, Whyte said all he knows is that the Buran to be auctioned has never flown in space. But he does have a lot confidence in his source for the hardware.

One of Whyte's principal investors is closely associated with Alexander Bashilov, Director General of NPO Molniya JSC in Moscow, who Whyte said has been given authority by the Russian government to sell one of the Russian shuttles.

Whyte's firm is acting as an agent for NPO Molniya and will collect an unspecified commission should someone actually purchase the shuttle.

SPACE.com attempted to contact Bashilov's office but he was unavailable.

When first approached by his investor, Whyte turned over the responsibility of finding a Buran buyer to his wife, Liz.

Having learned of Tom Cruise's interest in the space program from recent media reports covering the premiere of the IMAX 3D movie "Space Station," which Cruise narrated, the Whyte's thought they had a potential customer.

"She was convinced that Tom Cruise would buy it if we could find him," Whyte explained. "But everytime she would get close, his entourage of people around him would say he's not interested in that. She's not convinced the message is getting through to him."

Then having learned that KFWB was about to host an online auction, the Whyte's considered the potential that Cruise — or anyone else with the necessary money and interest — would learn of the Buran while driving around Los Angeles.

So they approached Carol Graham, their advertising representative at KFWB, and told her they would like to sell a Russian space shuttle on the station's auction site.

"She thought they were joking," Baker said.

But after the radio station's lawyers looked at the agreements and mulled it over, they agreed everything appeared in order, Baker said, adding she has no doubts about the authenticity of the offer or the legitimacy of the company they are dealing with.

"First FX represents a lot of different, high-level companies in this area and we've done business with them before," Baker said.

Whyte acknowledged that aspects of the deal seem difficult to swallow, even for him, and noted that he would protect any potential buyer by setting up an escrow account until the hardware was delivered.

"We're sort of sitting on pins and needles," Whyte said. "They (NPO Molniya) insist and continue to insist that yes (a Buran) is available, yes they want the money, and yes if you can sell one then please go ahead. So that's what we're pushing for."

It's unclear if the Russian government would approve such a sale, given South African space tourist Mark Shuttleworth's recent experience.

Following his week-long stay aboard the International Space Station, Shuttleworth expressed a desire to buy the Soyuz spacecraft he returned to Earth in last weekend and was denied by Russian officials, who cited concerns about laws that protect the transfer of certain technology to other nations.

"Everything is in place as far as we know and far as paperwork is concerned," Whyte said, "except one member of the Russian parliament might just say 'nyet.'"


The preceding article was reprinted with permission of SPACE.com, where it first appeared.

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