A Russian rocket carrying a payload of religious icons, appeals for world peace and a stuffed toy dog took dreams of better business into orbit early today.
The three-stage Soyuz rocket blasted off from the once-secret Plesetsk space center near the northern Russian port of Archangel.
Mounted on the rocket is the Resurs 500 satellite and descent module, which will orbit Earth for about five days before splashing down in international waters about 200 miles off the coast of Washington state.
The Russian navy's Marshal Krylov, an oceanographic research vessel, plans to fish the module out of the Pacific and take it to Seattle on Nov. 24, two days before Thanksgiving.
In Seattle, officials are planning receptions, art shows, folk song and dance performances and a tour of the Krylov. Hundreds of Russian sailors, dignitaries and others are expected to be on hand.
The flight, dubbed Space Flight Europe-America 500, commemorates the International Year of Space and the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the Western Hemisphere.
The project was spurred by a former Soviet rocket-building company, Photon, and an independent Russian group called the Foundation for Social Innovation.
The flight "will link the ex-U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. in a celebration of a new era in global political and economic relations," said the foundation's chief, Gennady Alferenko.
Among the contents in the capsule: wedding rings of a Russian couple planning to be married in Seattle; Russian Orthodox Church icons; a crystal model of the Statue of Liberty; Digswell the Space Dog, a stuffed toy based on a British cartoon character; peace messages from President Boris N. Yeltsin and the Dalai Lama, and samples of Russian products.
Organizers did not give the cost of the launch in rubles but estimated it would cost at least $200 million in the West. They said they were underwriting it to promote military conversion and Russia's new entrepreneurs.
Russia's civilian space program, which has been hard-hit by the economic turmoil following the demise of the Soviet Union, also hopes to attract Western customers who want to launch satellites into orbit.
It was the first launch to start in Russia and end in the United States.
Russian capsule targets U.S.
A capsule carrying peace messages, toys and Russian artifacts but no cosmonauts will land near the United States. The mission is to promote the civilian and business use of technology once reserved for the Soviet military.
Resurs capsule: Based on Vostok manned spacecraft used in the 1960s
Descent vehicle: Contains items to be returned to Earth
Polar orbit: Capsule spends five days in space
Splashdown: Pacific Ocean, about 200 miles off Washington coast
Launch: Plesetsk cosmodrome
"Soyuz" rocket: Used since 1964 to launch Soviet manned spacecraft
Source: Interavia Space Directory