Sixty-five astronauts and cosmonauts from fifteen nations gathered in Tokyo, Japan, October 13 through 17, 2003 for the XVIII Planetary Congress of the Association of Space Explorers. The theme of the Congress was Learning From SpaceEnriching World Culture reflecting the belief that education, space and exploration transcend political and cultural boundaries for the benefit of all humanity; the XVIII Congress was hosted by Japanese astronaut Mamoru Mohri.
The Opening Ceremony of the Congress took place Monday morning at the Tokyo International Exchange Center. Dr. Jiro Kondo, chairman of the organizing committee of the XVIII Congress, opened the ceremony by welcoming the fliers, spouses and guests to Japan. John Fabian and Alexei Leonov, co-presidents of the international ASE followed Kondo and expressed appreciation, on behalf of the fliers, for the efforts of the organizing committee in hosting the Congress. Fabian also remembered the many fallen comrades who have left us in the past two years after which the assembly honored them with a moment of silence.
Making a special appearance at the Opening Ceremony and representing a significant honor to the organizing committee and participants, His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince of Japan spoke next, reflecting on his lifelong fascination with space and exploration and extolling the significant contributions that space technologies have made to the development of modern society. Takeo Kawamura, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology followed with a brief presentation on space education in Japan, and Congress host Mamoru Mohri concluded the remarks by welcoming the delegates and officially declaring the Congress open.
The Plenary Session was held immediately following the Opening Ceremony; the Keynote Address for the session was delivered in the form of a dialogue between Dr. Kondo and Tadao Umesao, special advisor to the National Museum of Ethnology. Umesao recounted his experiences using terrestrial exploration as a tool for expanding scientific knowledge, and he discussed the many analogues between exploration on earth and exploration in space.
After a group photo and lunch at the nearby National Museum for Emerging Science and Innovation (MeSci), the fliers reassembled for the Theme Session, chaired by Congress host Mamoru Mohri. The Theme Session featured presentations by Takashi Tachibana, Jan Davis, Claude Nicollier, Rusty Schweickart, Mikhail Tyurin and Toyohiro Akiyama; each panelist addressed how their space flight experiences contributed to his or her culture and society.
While the fliers were in session, their spouses and guests enjoyed a half-day tour of Tokyo including visits to Roppongi Hills, the Imperial Palace gardens and the ancient Meiji Shrine.
The first day of the Congress was capped by an evening reception hosted at the nearby Fuji TV building and featured several traditional Japanese welcoming ceremonies as well as remarks by co-presidents Fabian and Leonov and host Mamoru Mohri.
Tuesday began with the traditional Crew Safety & Technical Issues session, chaired by Jerry Ross. The session included several interesting presentations by Ross, John Fabian, Chris Hadfield and Koichi Wakata. The speakers addressed multiple aspects of the Columbia Space Shuttle accident. Chris Hadfield presented the reconstructed timeline of events that led up to the accident as well as the tile and Reinforced Carbon-Carbon (RCC) thermal protection systems impact testing; Jerry Ross reviewed the collection and analysis of the Columbia hardware and John Fabian commented on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board report's findings and recommendations. Koichi Wakata presented NASA's plan for Return To Flight, including the plans and techniques for on-orbit tile and RCC damage inspection and repair.
After the Crew safety & Technical Issues session the fliers participated in a taste test experiment designed to get astronaut input on new space foods being developed by and for the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). After the lunch the astronauts and cosmonauts assembled for the traditional Congress poster signing ceremony.
The afternoon session, Space Flight Updates The Year in Review was chaired by Russian cosmonaut Sergei Avdeev. Viktor Savinykh reported on the advantages of long-term utilization of manned space stations for the creation and improvement of general and specialized cartographic maps; Sergei Avdeev discussed cosmic ray nuclei and central nervous system experiments onboard the MIR and ISS as well as utilization of small satellites for monitoring natural and man-made catastrophes; Eric Anderson of Space Adventures, Inc. discussed his company's strategy for developing the commercial human space flight market; and Ron Parise discussed innovative communication and navigation architectures and operational concepts for use on Shuttle and Station.
While the fliers were in session, their spouses and other guests of the Association took a city tour of Tokyo and the surrounding environs. That evening, the participants attended a reception and dinner in their honor at the Mori Building in the upscale Roppongi Hills business district.
Wednesday morning the participants split into groups, one traveling to the Tsukuba Space Center for briefings and tours of the Japanese astronaut training facility while the others stayed in Tokyo pending an afternoon departure for their Community Day assignments all across Japan. On Thursday, fliers visited six educational institutions in Tokyo while others traveled to Aomori, Gifu, Hanamaki, Hiroshima, Kagoshima, Kitakyushu, Kochi, Mie, Sapporo, Shimonoseki and Tsu; fliers staying in Tokyo visited with faculty and students at Tokyo University, Nihon University Surugadi, the Tokyo Metropolitan College of Aeronautical Engineering, the Deutsche Schule, the Russian School and Sundai Gakuen junior and senior high schools.
On Friday, the day began with a session dedicated to discussion of the International Space Station. The session was divided into a number of presentations from the partners in the Space Station Program including the U.S., Europe, Russia and Japan. The presentations discussed features of the partners' elements of the ISS, evaluated ISS operations from the partners' point of view, and discussed plans and challenges for the future. The reports were followed by a panel discussion and questions from the audience.
The final technical session of the Congress took place after lunch, once again at MeSci. Chaired by Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, the session included reports by astronauts representing the partners of the International Space Station program. Each presented prospects for the human space program of his/her country or organization. Japan's role in the future of the world's human space exploration was also discussed, in light of comments generated from questionnaires completed by the astronauts participating at the Congress.
Just prior to the Closing Ceremony, the fliers assembled to elect new members to the Executive Committee. As a result of the cancellation of the 2002 Congress five ASE Executive Committee seats were up for election at the XVIII Congress in Tokyo. John Fabian (USA) and Alexei Leonov (Russia) were reelected to three year terms, while ASE members Chris Hadfield (Canada), Toyohiro Akiyama (Japan) and Tokhtar Aubakirov (Kazakhstan) were elected to serve two year terms on the international governing board.
At the Closing Ceremony, Dr. Jiro Kondo and Tadao Umesao were awarded ASE Medallions for their lifetime contributions to exploration, science and education. In a long overdue recognition, Dirk Frimout was also awarded a Medallion for hosting the XIV Congress in Belgium. Lorna L. Onizuka was awarded the 2003 Planetary Award (the Crystal Helmet) in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the development of space-related educational activities for students and teachers. Onizuka, widow of Challenger astronaut Ellison Onizuka, was a founding director of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education and was instrumental in the development of the NASA's Teacher in Space Program and the Challenger Center's Vista Station and Cosmic EdVentures programs. Onizuka is currently employed as an advisor to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Astronaut Office in Houston, Texas.