Sixty-three astronauts and cosmonauts from twelve nations gathered in Spain November 13 through 17, 2000 for the Sixteenth Planetary Congress of the Association of Space Explorers. The theme of the Congress was A New Space for Humanity, reflecting the belief that the upcoming millenium represents a new era of international cooperation in the pursuit of a permanent human presence in space; the XVI Congress was hosted by astronauts Pedro Duque and Michael Lopez-Alegria.
The Opening Ceremony of the Congress took place Monday morning at the Juan Carlos I Congress Auditorium. Following opening remarks by Congress President Pedro Duque, the Vice President of the Spanish Government, Mariano Rajoy, delivered a well received speech. His comments were succeeded by brief statements by ASE co-Presidents Frederick Gregory and Victor Savinykh, and Michael Lopez-Alegria then closed the inaugural session. A brief cocktail reception was held after the reception, and Duque, Lopez-Alegria and NASA Astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz participated in a one hour press conference for Spanish speaking print, radio and television media.
That afternoon, the first technical session of the Congress, Crew Safety and Technical Issues was hosted by international Committee on Crew Safety and Technology Development co-chairs Frederick Gregory and Gennadi Strekalov. The session included several interesting presentations. Charles Ensign of the Spaceport Engineering and Technology Directorate at KSC discoursed on probabilistic risk assessment techniques as applied to aerospace systems, Jay Buckey reported on new technologies for hearing assessment and voice communications in noisy environments, Scott Gahring of the ISS Independent Assurance Office at JSC gave his organization's perspective on risk assessments with regard to recent technical issues on the international space station, and Rick Husband provided an overview on the status of the CRV/X-38 program; while the fliers were in session, their spouses and other guests of the Association took a city tour of Madrid. That evening, the delegations had dinner at the Ryscal XI restaurant in central Madrid, after which all were invited to a traditional Flamenco show organized by the restaurant.
Tuesday morning the delegates attended the second session of the Congress, Space Exploration as a Driver of New Technologies, at the Ministry of Science and Technology. Hosted by Pedro Duque, the session included remarks by the Secretary of State for Political Sciences and Tecnology of the Ministry of Science and Technology Ramón Marimón, representatives of Spanish industry including Vincent Gomez of CDTI, Eugenio Galdón of ONO, Álvaro Azcarraga of SENER, Francisco Liceaga of INASMET , Jacinto García Palacios of HISPASAT and Mr. Marimón. The recurring theme of their remarks was that space exploration is a stimulant of popular imagination and serves as a driver of technological innovation, the benefits of which have far reaching economic, social and cultural impact.
After lunch, the delegates returned to the Ministry for the first of two sessions on the International Space Station. Chaired by US astronaut Steven Smith, this session focused primarily on US activities onboard and contributions to the ISS. In the opening presentation, astronauts Edward Lu and Michael Lopez-Alegria reported on the sequence of ISS assembly missions that have occurred to date, talked briefly about their own missions to the ISS and shared dramatic pictures and descriptions of their EVA excursions on the exterior of the station. Beth Stubbings, a senior engineer in the NASA/JSC EVA Project Office followed with an overview of the spacewalking tools, strategies, protocols, and suit modifications that have been developed to meet the challenges inherent to the assembly of the ISS and in the session's last presentation Frank Longhurst, Columbus Project Manager for ESA reported on the status of the Columbus laboratory and its scientific research facilities; he also discussed ESA's work on the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and other key ISS elements and systems in the fields of structures, robotics, data management, laboratory support equipment and life support.
While the fliers were engaged in the business of the Congress, the companions traveled to the nearby town of Segovia for the day where they visited the Roman aqueduct, the cathedral, Casa Picos and the Alcazar. Following lunch at the famous Casa Cándido, they returned to Madrid and joined up with the fliers for an evening performance of Jekyll and Hyde.
Wednesday morning the fliers moved to the College of Aeronautical Engineers for the second of the two-part ISS series; chaired by ESA astronaut Reinhold Ewald, the session focused primarily on partner contributions to the station. In his opening remarks, Ewald pointed to the challenges facing future expedition crews in terms of the necessity to train at numerous different facilities on three continents. In the first presentation, Ed Lu highlighted the partners' different ways of doing things and the new methods that have to be developed to meet this training challenge. He also talked about computerized command and control software and procedures that will be used on station, on board storage and item tracking, communication, simulator fidelity, and EVA training.
NASDA astronaut Chiaki Mukai followed with a presentation on the numerous hardware contributions Japan is preparing for the ISS, including the internal and external facilities for experiments and storage, the KIBO module and the HTV transfer vehicle. Former ESA astronaut Ulf Merbold then reported on European plans for utilization of ISS, including a description of the micro-g facilities and other hardware contributions. He also described other path finding experiments such as the Global Time System for world-wide clock synchronization and the FOCUS ensemble, which provides real-time information on global natural fire catastrophes. Former ESA astronaut Ernst Messerschmid concluded the session with an overview of the ESA Astronaut Center and the activities of the 16 European astronauts in ISS technical development and ESA astronaut flight preparations.
Following lunch at the Royal Opera House (Teatro Real), the fliers returned to the College for the Executive Session, where the internal business of the international association was conducted. Cosmonaut Toktar Aubakirov opened the session with an overview of his plans to host the XVII Congress, to be held in Kazakhstan September 23-30, 2001 and Franco Malerba made a proposal, which was formally approved, to host the XVIII Congress in Italy. Loren Acton and Dumitru Prunariu reported on the ASE-Globetree Foundation partnership, and elections were held in which Alexei Leonov and John Fabian were selected to replace outgoing Executive Committee members Frederick Gregory and Viktor Savinykh. While the fliers were working, the spouses had some free time and finished the day with a visit to the world famous Prado museum.
At the conclusion of the Executive Session, the fliers returned to the hotel for the traditional poster signing ceremony. That evening, Pedro Duque made a presentation to the general public at the Planetarium of Madrid. Following this, the fliers were joined by their spouses and companions for a reception hosted by the Mayor of Madrid, where Duque and Lopez-Alegria were awarded Leonov Medallions for their efforts in organizing the XVI Congress.
Thursday morning the delegates traveled by train to Valencia on the southeast coast of Spain. Upon arrival the fliers visited the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences, where Russian cosmonaut Sergei Avdeev chaired a session on the Mir space station; meanwhile, the spouses took a guided city tour of Valencia. Back at the City of Arts and Sciences, Avdeev gave a comprehensive overview of the history of the Russian space station program, beginning with the early Salyut stations and culminating with the assembly sequence and operation of the Mir station. Avdeev reported on some of the difficulties inherent with operating and staffing the station over its 13 year life, as well as some of the lessons learned in meeting these challenges. Vladimir Soloviev concluded the session with a report on the Russian plans to de-orbit the station in February of 2001. That evening, the fliers and spouses enjoyed dinner of traditional Spanish Paella at f La Marcelina Restaurant, which included a serenade by a Tuna university musical troupe.
The final technical session of the Congress took place Friday morning, once again at the City of Arts and Sciences. The Future Projects sessions was chaired by US astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz and included presentations by Chang-Diaz, Louis Freidman of the Planetary Society and a round-table discussion by representatives of the Spanish scientific community. Chang-Diaz opened the session with a discussion of the basic principles of the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) operations and reported on the latest theoretical and experimental results of his efforts to develop the advanced propulsion capability. He also described the conceptual application of the VASIMR to a fast human Mars missions, as well as plans for near-term flight demonstrations. Louis Freidman, Executive Director of the Planetary Society followed with a presentation on the future astronaut as explorer and tele-operator, arguing that the robotic and human exploration programs should be integrated so that the human goal becomes part of the robotic mission, and the robotic mission developments become part of the planning for human exploration. Freidman expounded on two visions of Mars exploration, one of the lonely astronaut(s) hiking in bulky pressure suits across an alien world, recording his and her impressions and another of astronauts in shorts and t-shirts in a Mars base with 3D goggles, a computer and a joystick tele-operating vehicles working in harsh and hostile environments. Freidman proposed a mission architecture wherein both visions merge to create a picture of the future human explorer on Mars. That afternoon Duque and Lopez-Alegria made a presentation on living and working in space to the general public at the City of Arts and Sciences.
That evening the delegates gathered for the Closing Ceremony, the final event of the Congress. Held at the City of Arts and Sciences, the banquet was presided over by the Prince of Asturias; following remarks by Pedro Duque, Eduardo Zaplana, president of the Generalitat Valenciana and Michael Lopez-Alegria, the Prince was awarded the Crystal Helmet for his patronage of and support for the XVI Congress. After the ceremony and dinner, the closing ceremony was punctuated by a magnificent fireworks display, concluding an extremely well organized and interesting Congress.