Russia's Buran program was very short lived. Like, only one flight short lived. But according to cosmonaut (and ISS alum) Oleg Kotov, the craft had some serious potential—outclassing its American rival at both saving lives and destroying them.
Kotov talked to New Scientist, explaining that the Buran's design superiority lay in safety:
It would have allowed all of a crew to escape at any stage of the flight; even on the launch pad there was an escape pod. The NASA shuttle crew does not have this opportunity. Buran had ejector seats for all crew members. And that includes those sitting in the mid-deck, who had seats that ejected sideways.
The Buran could have also avoided the Challenger's horrible fate by avoiding the need for (failure-prone) foam:
We had no external tank: the Buran orbiter was attached to an Energia rocket, not a tank. And that rocket needed no foam on its surface.
But what about this nuke launching business? That's not exactly a NASA mainstay!
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.
Gulp. Good thing both the Cold War and Buran bomb-flinging plan fizzled out. [New Scientist]