On September 15, 1997, Costa Rica was admitted as the 27th member country of the international Association of Space Explorers. The ASE Charter was amended by unanimous consent of the attending fliers to provide membership eligibility for any country which "...is the native-born country of a space flight participant and in which that person holds citizenship...". Costa Rica becomes the first country admitted since the addition of Austria, Belgium, Canada, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Switzerland and the United Kingdom at the 8th Congress in Washington, DC.
The Thirteenth Planetary Congress of the Association of Space Explorers (ASE) was held September 12-19, 1997 in San Josť, Costa Rica. The theme of the Congress was "Space Technology for Sustainable Development," reflecting the Association's belief that space technologies can significantly enhance the monitoring of the impact of human development on the environment as well as the quality of life on Earth. The Thirteenth Congress was hosted by astronaut Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz.
The Opening Ceremony of the Congress was convened on Saturday, September 13 at the National Theatre in downtown San Josť, where the fliers and their spouses were warmly welcomed by the first vice-president of the republic Rodrigo Oreamuno. After an informal gathering with the vice-president and attending students, the attendees had lunch at the Hotel Camino Real, where they were given an overview of the congress program by the local organizing committee and host Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz. After lunch, the first working session, International Space Programs Review, was held at the Hotel Herradura Conference Center and featured presentations by Russian cosmonaut and Flight Director Vladimir Solovyov, who reviewed the current state of the Mir station; US astronaut Kevin Chilton, who discussed the Shuttle/Mir program and plans for Phases II and III; and Jet Propulsion Laboratory representative Dr. Robert Anderson who gave an overview of the status of the Mars Pathfinder vehicle and its mission.
After a day of sight-seeing at nearby Poas Volcano and in the communities of Sarchi and Grecia, the fliers gathered on Monday morning at the Plaza de la Democracia for Costa Rican Independence Day activities. Following remarks by several municipal representatives and Costa Rican president Josť Maria Figueres, the delegates were treated to a reception hosted by president Figueres at the adjacent Museum of National History. That afternoon, the ASE Committee on Crew Safety and Technology Development, chaired by Fred Gregory, hosted the second working session of the Congress. The session on Crew Safety and Technical Issues began with a discussion by Russian cosmonaut Gennadi Strekalov and US astronaut Shannon Lucid of the applicable lessons learned from their experiences as international crew members on the US Shuttle and Russian Mir space station. Bob Springer followed with a discussion of the Liquid Fly Back Boosters and the advantages of using these as possible replacements for the current shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters. The last presentation of the day was made by Bruce McCandless II, who discussed the safety and reliability aspects of the Lockheed-Martin VentureStar™ vehicle.
Tuesday, September 16 began with the Theme and Award Ceremony, where the Association presented president Figueres with the annual Planetary Award, the Crystal Helmet for his efforts in institutionalizing the protection of non-renewable resources and biodiversity in Costa Rica. Also recognized with ASE Medallions were Costa Rican scientists Rodrigo Gamez and Guy de Teramond for their work in ecological preservation and the use of technology in support of sustainable development, respectively. After lunch at the Hotel Marriott, the session on Space Research and Applications provided a glimpse into research plans for the International Space Station as well as possible future modes of space transportation and crew rescue. Chaired by Charlie Walker, the session began with a report by Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz on the status of his work on the Variable Specific-Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR). Dr. Loren Acton followed with a discussion of his investigations into the adhesion of cells in zero- versus one- gravity. In the third presentation, Dr. John-David Bartoe gave a comprehensive overview of future science research plans for ISS. In a last minute addition to the schedule, Gordon Fullerton reported on the status of the X-38 flight development program. After the session, the fliers signed the traditional congress commemorative posters.
The last working session of the Congress was held on Wednesday, September 16 at EARTH College in Guacimo, two hours by bus from San Josť. The session on Ecology, chaired by Dr. Josť Zaglul, Rector of EARTH, included a presentation by Russian cosmonaut Dr. Victor Savinykh, who spoke on the efficacy of earth observation platforms in characterizing environmental change. The ASE Ecology Committee followed with several presentations describing environmental change through photographs taken from space, and EARTH College professor Dr. Bert Kohlmann reported on the collaborative effort between EARTH College and NASA to find a cure for the Chagas Disease. Following lunch at the campus with students and staff, Dr. Harley Thronson from NASA Headquarters' Office of Space Science gave a very well-attended presentation on the Origins Program, NASA's effort to answer the question: Are We Alone?
Thursday morning, following the unexpected departure of a substantial number of Russian cosmonauts, the delegates traveled far and wide within Costa Rica to participate in Community Day activities. Despite some logistical snafus which resulted in the exclusion of several well-prepared fliers, most of the remaining astronauts and cosmonauts were driven or flown to very receptive audiences in local and remote villages and towns. After lunch, the executive session was held and the delegates formulated the Congress General Statement, approved charter amendments designed to provide a mechanism for the growth of the international association, heard a report from Dirk Frimout on the 14th Congress in Belgium, and approved ASE participation in the Bibo TV and Jaydie Putterman projects. Elections to the international executive committee were held and Fred Gregory and Victor Savinykh were re-elected for a second term to the international governing body.