First, the Russian space capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean with its payload of peace and goodwill. Tonight, two Aeroflot planes carrying 330 Russian visitors with visions of hope and prosperity are set to land at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
That a Russian rocket could be fired into space and drop its payload off the U.S. coast without sending the country into a panic is one sign of how much the world has changed since the end of the Cold War, say organizers of what has been dubbed "the friendship-rocket" project.
That planeloads of Russian business, military and government representatives could follow for a week of discussions, celebrations and just plain hospitality is another sign of things to come, they say.
"This is really to symbolize the end of the Cold War, to put emphasis on converting military plants to peacetime activities, and to promote trade between the two countries," said Seattle promoter Bob Walsh, who helped organize the project and who also brought the 1990 Goodwill Games to Seattle.
Walsh, who worked with U.S. authorities to clear the way for the Nov. 16 launching of the Soyuz rocket from Plesetsk, the space center in northern Russia, said the rocket's gift-laden capsule landed in the Pacific Ocean about 80 miles from Grays Harbor at 10:37 a.m. yesterday.
The 5,152-pound capsule was carrying gifts, souvenirs, business products, religious icons, a Christmas present for President-elect
Bill Clinton and messages from the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled leader, and Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Walsh said he did not know what the messages from Yeltsin and the Dalai Lama said, or what the gift for Clinton was.
Walsh said the capsule included two wedding rings from a Russian couple who are now in Seattle. They are to be married Saturday at St. Spiridon Cathedral, after retrieving their rings from the capsule.
Walsh said the Russian tracking ship Marshal Krylov is scheduled to arrive in Seattle tomorrow with the capsule. It picked the capsule up some 2 1/2 hours after it set down off the Washington coast.
The capsule will be displayed at the Museum of Flight after being featured Friday at 9:30 a.m. in the Bon Marche's holiday parade.
"It's the first capsule the museum has had that has actually been in orbit," said Walsh.
The Krylov will dock at Pier 42 near the Kingdome. It will be open to the public from 2 to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, said Walsh.
It will be the first time anyone from the general public, including Russian civilians, have been allowed on board, said Walsh.
The ship is carrying a crew of 450. Crew members and other Russian visitors will be hosted for Thanksgiving dinners in homes around the Seattle area.
Tonight, two chartered Aeroflot jets are scheduled to land at Sea-Tac at 7 and 7:50 p.m., Walsh said.
The 330 passengers from Moscow and St. Petersburg will meet with leaders here about trade and business, space technology and other subjects related to future business between the two countries, he said.
A Russian-American Business Opportunity Conference is set to open Wednesday at the Seattle Sheraton, where 60 to 70 Russian visitors will be staying. The rest will be staying at the homes of Seattle-area hosts.
The launch of the "friendship rocket" coincided with the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage to the New World. The project was called the Europe-America Spaceflight 500.
Russian organizers estimated the cost of the project at $250 million, but Walsh was skeptical the cost was that high.
Walsh held a champagne celebration for a group of Russians at his Seattle office yesterday. He said all were excited. "It was pulled off by the private sectors, with the support of the governments from both countries," he said.
Project organizer Gennady Alferenko, founder and chairman of the Foundation for Social Innovation with offices in Moscow and New York, declared after the successful splashdown of the capsule, "I think it will bring new hope. . . . This is a good result."
Alferenko said he anticipated U.S. and Russian leaders will be interested in converting military technology into peacetime uses, such as improved satellite communications.
Walsh said the Soyuz rocket that carried the peace capsule was the same type that carried cosmonauts into space and was designed to carry nuclear warheads.
Walsh said that in the six months he was working with Russian organizers of the project he received no negative telephone calls from people who might be worried about the launch.
"Our phones were ringing off the hook with people wanting to help," he said.