The scientific value may be minimal, but this modest Russian space venture is attempting to open a passageway to increased trade. If things go as planned, the symbolic splashdown will take place off the Washington coast.
Eager to combat their image of technological decay, the Russians are dropping in.
In one of history's most unusual publicity stunts, a Proton rocket will fire a capsule from Russia's once-secret Plesetsk cosmodrome into polar orbit for seven days in November.
It is scheduled to splash down 150 miles off Washington's coast Nov. 22 with a toy dog, prayers for peace and pleas for American investment and trade.
The capsule will be scooped up by the 680-foot Soviet missile-tracking ship Marshal Krylov. The 500 people aboard will include a delegation helicoptered from Seattle.
The ship is scheduled to dock in Seattle at 9 a.m. Nov. 24 in time for a Thanksgiving celebration of the post-Cold War conversion of defense industries to peaceful uses. Organizers hope to display the space capsule at the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field.
About 300 Russian dignitaries, business leaders, scientists, journalists and space officials are scheduled to arrive in Seattle by charter flight.
"I see this of tremendous benefit to Seattle" because of the trade potential, said Bob Walsh, the Goodwill Games promoter who is helping organize the event. "They are not like the Third World. And the natural resources that are available are staggering."
Weyerhaeuser is already exploring the possibility of logging in Siberia. Walsh said Russian machinery such as huge helicopters or all-terrain vehicles are examples of unique products the country could provide.
Seattle was picked as the capsule site because of its involvement with the Goodwill Games, explained Walsh, who recently visited Moscow with a Seattle delegation to help lay plans for the event.
The image of a Russian rocket payload landing near the United States might seem an odd one to promote peace and trade. But Walsh said, "We haven't heard anybody is concerned about it." American defense and political authorities have approved the event, he added, and the details will be provided to the Reduction Risk Center of the U.S. by the Soviet military.
While a Russian announcement put the cost of the flight at about $250 million, Walsh was skeptical. He said the Russians are using space equipment already built, tapping it to promote business for its desperate defense industry.
"U.S. military industries are undergoing conversion at the rate of four percent and are already swooning from the effect," Alexei Shulunov, president of the League of Defense Industries of Russia, told a recent Moscow press conference. "We are trying to cope with 80 percent conversion, and obviously we need allies."
Walsh said Americans have a stake in helping Russia succeed in converting from communism to capitalism, from swords to plowshares. "Stability there contributes a lot to the future," he said. "The better the economy is there, the better the world will be."
The launch, apparently conceived several months ago by a Russian rocket-building company called Photon and a Russian group called the Foundation for Social Innovation, should underscore the capability of Russia to launch space cargoes cheaply.
Called Space Flight Europe-America 500, the rocket flight is timed to commemorate the International Year of Space and the 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the New World.
This is not the first time Washington has played host to a Russian aviation feat. In 1937, the Russian air crew that made the world's first trans-polar flight across the North Pole landed in Vancouver, Clark County.