A Russian missile will be launched tomorrow toward Washington state, home of some of the nation's most strategic nuclear submarine and bomber bases. And local officials could hardly be happier.
The post-Cold War payload includes peace messages, a toy "space dog," wedding rings, religious icons and pleas for desperately needed business investment in Russia.
Military and civilian authorities in both countries approved the flight, which is scheduled to end with a splashdown Nov. 22 in the Pacific about 150 miles off the Washington coast.
The flight, dubbed Space Flight Europe-America 500, commemorates the International Year of Space and the 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the Western Hemisphere.
In honor of the launch, the Seattle city Office of International Relations has helped arrange receptions, art shows, folk song and dance performances, and a rare public tour of a Russian navy ship, the Marshal Krylov.
The Krylov, an oceanographic research vessel designed for tracking and recovery of space capsules, is to pluck the capsule out of the water and take it to Seattle. Among the Russian visitors here will be the ship's 450 crew members plus 330 Russian dignitaries, reporters and others arriving by air.
So far, there's been no outcry of fear that the 5,152-pound capsule might go haywire and crash somebody else's party, much less the Trident nuclear-submarine base at Bangor or Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane.
Although nearly all Soviet space capsules touched down on land, most were within 10 miles of target, said John Pike, Space Policy Project director for the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C.
"They've been doing this for 30 years. I think they've got it pretty well down by now," Pike said.
A Russian couple who plan to be married at Seattle's St. Spiridon Cathedral have their wedding rings in the capsule. Other contents include Russian Orthodox Church icons for St. Spiridon; Digswell the Space Dog, a stuffed toy based on a British cartoon character; peace messages from the dalai lama and Russian President Boris Yeltsin; and samples of Russian products.
The mission was conceived to promote use of technology once reserved for Soviet military forces, said Alexei Shulunov, president of the League of Defense Industries of Russia.