ABOARD THE MARSHAL KRYLOV - This missile-tracking ship sailed through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and on to Seattle today after making Russia's first ocean pickup of a space capsule 120 miles off Washington's coast yesterday.
The crew made the recovery in winds exceeding 50 mph and waves as high as 40 feet, bringing congratulations from Moscow.
"Frankly speaking, it was a very difficult decision (to pick up the satellite) because of the bad weather conditions," said the ship's commander, Lt. Vadim Yevgenievich Shardyn. "But the crew is competent and did their best to solve the problem."
The purpose of the flight was to demonstrate Russian technical expertise and promote trade.
"This mission will show that our military-industrial complex has a good level of production and can redirect that for use in the private sphere," Shardyn said.
Launched on a Soyuz rocket from Plesetsk, Russia, on Nov. 16, the 8-foot diameter, 5,152-pound spherical capsule parachuted into the Pacific Ocean yesterday, burned in re-entry from silver to black and orange.
The capsule came down on time at 10:32 a.m. and landed 27 miles from the ship.
Two Russian helicopters left the ship to pinpoint the location of the capsule and dropped a diver into the heavy seas to cut loose its parachute.
The Marshal Krylov deployed a steel net from booms and snagged the capsule as it drifted alongside. It was hoisted aboard at 1:19 p.m. yesterday.
Russia is desperately trying to convert its military economy to a civilian one.
"The missiles from our launches are not so expensive as yours," explained Vladimir Kraynov, chief of a group of Russian rocket experts on board to supervise recovery.
With the end of the Cold War, "there are no secrets," Kraynov added.
Inside the capsule are art objects, messages of peace from Russian leaders, souvenirs, a pair of wedding rings, a toy dog and a Christmas present for President-elect Bill Clinton.
The ship was to dock today at Pier 42 in Seattle. Once top-secret, the Marshal Krylov is expected to be open to the public from 2 to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
The capsule will be towed in the Bon Marche holiday parade Friday at 9:30 a.m. and is to be opened at the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field Saturday at 11 a.m.
Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, flew in a similar capsule, the Russians said. This one was unmanned, however.
Cosmonaut German Titov, the second Russian in space, was scheduled to arrive at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport tonight in a delegation of 330 Russian dignitaries from Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Seattle promoter Bob Walsh, who worked with U.S. authorities to clear the way for the capsule recovery and delivery to Seattle, celebrated in Seattle yesterday with Russian representatives.
The ship's crew celebrated, too, with a talent show last night in the ship's theater. The 680-foot ship also has a small gym and a two-story-high missile-tracking room, with an electronic screen.
Sailors were on the decks before dawn this morning to catch their first glimpse of America in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. None has been to the United States before.
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.
-- Times reporter Lee Moriwaki in Seattle contributed to this story.