The Volna rocket had risen out of the water, flown through the sky, and pierced the low-lying clouds. The Volna, a Soviet-era ICBM, had been refitted for peaceful duty, and on this first day of summer, it was lifting Cosmos 1 up from a Russian submarine and toward Earth orbit. If the spacecraft got there, it would deploy eight tissue-thin “blades,” 600 square meters of Mylar that would catch the sun and begin propelling the craft, on nothing but light, through humankind’s first solar-sailing voyage. The ship, beautiful as a flower or firework, would be controlled from the ground by two teams, each so small that Mission Operations Moscow was called MOM and Project Operations Pasadena was POP.
Louis Friedman, the head of the Planetary Society, the mission’s chief sponsor, and Viacheslav “Slava” Linkin, the payload and electronics man, received word in Moscow that Doppler data from the Kamchatka tracking station suggested orbital insertion. Viktor Kerzhanovich, listening from Majuro in the Marshall Islands, also detected a signal, however weak. Trackers in the Czech Republic picked up something, too. But then, nothing.
In fact, the spacecraft never made it into orbit. The Volna, that formidable Cold War sword, had proved a less than reliable plowshare, making for a failure that was bitterly beside the point: the chemically propelled brute-force rocket was the trouble, not the beautiful Icarian blades that never got a chance to be tested.
After a few days at a conference in Atlanta, I thought I'd take the slow road back to Nashville with a stop in the mountain resort (and former gold mining) town of Dahlonega, GA. Little did I know I would be arriving just in time for the annual "Bear on the Square" Appalachian Music Festival. I was lucky to find a B&B just a few blocks from the town square, where hundreds of local musicians were playing whatever old-time tunes they could think of. Here's a flickr slide show of the weekend. Click the box with the arrows in the lower right-hand corner to make it full screen, then click "show info" to read the captions:
Also, click here to see a slide show of the singing Peasall Sisters (Grammy winners from "Oh Brother Where Art Thou).