Fifty-six astronauts and cosmonauts from 10 nations gathered October 10 – 14 in Salt Lake City, Utah for the XIX Planetary Congress of the Association of Space Explorers. Hosted by former U.S. Senator Jake Garn, the week-long Congress featured technical sessions on the current activities and future plans for the U.S., international and commercial human spaceflight programs, excursions to areas of cultural and social interest and astronaut / cosmonaut visits to 39 of the 40 school districts in Utah. The theme of the Congress was “Our Destiny in Space, Worlds Without Borders”, reflecting the conviction of the ASE membership that collaboration is a necessary condition of future exploration beyond earth orbit.
The Congress began Monday morning with the traditional Opening Ceremony, held at the Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City. Preceded by students from the Christa McAuliffe School carrying the flags of all nations represented in the ASE, the fliers and spouses paraded into the hall and were greeted by the Governor of Utah as well as by members of the Executive Committee. Congress host Jake Garn opened the proceedings by welcoming the delegates and guests , after which he introduced a short video greeting from NASA Administrator Michael Griffin. Alexei Leonov followed, recounting the history of ASE and its role in the development of international cooperation in space; remembering an anecdotal comment from the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, he summed up the Congress theme by noting that “together we are better.” ASE co-President John Fabian then introduced the individual fliers and called for the traditional moment of silence in tribute to the fliers who passed away since the last Congress: Gordon Cooper, Andrian Nikolaev, Gennadi Sarafanov and Gennadi Strekalov. Former astronaut Charlie Precourt took the stage and welcomed the attendees on behalf of the Congress’s Foundation Sponsor, ATK Thiokol, and showed a short video prepared by Thiokol designed to inform and inspire the next generation of explorers.
Host Jake Garn returned to the podium and introduced Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr., who gave the keynote address to the assembled fliers, spouses, media, students and guests. Huntsman recounted the unique and interesting experiences of the Apollo 11 mission and crew and noted that having such a large group of space pioneers in Utah served to “inspire students to pursue their dreams, to promote the value and importance of science and education, and to remind students that we in fact have modern day heroes in our midst.”
Following the Opening Ceremony, the Executive Committee of the ASE conducted a press conference with representatives of the local, national and international media while the fliers and spouses mingled with students and the public in the foyer.
Monday afternoon’s Theme Session took place at the Grand America Hotel. Chaired by Bo Bobko and Viktor Savinykh, the session featured a dual keynote presentation by ASTP crew commanders Tom Stafford and Alexei Leonov, as well as a panel discussion by the ASE Founders present at the Congress. Stafford showed a video summary of the Apollo-Soyuz program highlights and discussed the role the program played in breaking down the barriers to cooperation between the United States and the USSR. Leonov followed, filling in some of the technical details and providing some personal reminisces about preparing for and conducting the flight. Leonov noted that the ASTP project paved the way for the formation of ASE, adding that for the Soviet and American crews, “politics did not exist, only a professional dedication to successfully completing the joint mission”. During the panel discussion, each Founding Member of ASE in attendance spoke about the role of ASE in promoting international cooperation on Earth and in space.
Following the Theme Session, the first Executive Session was held where Rusty Schweickart proposed an ASE effort to encourage greater attention to the global threat posed by Near Earth Objects and Loren Acton sought, and received, support for ASE participation in the Globetree Foundation’s World Championship in Cooperation. That evening, the fliers, spouses and volunteer staff of the Organizing Committee were treated to a reception and screening of the IMAX movie Magnificent Desolation at the Clark Planetarium in downtown Salt Lake City.
The second full day of the Congress opened with two technical sessions running simultaneously at the Grand America; chaired by Charlie Walker, the session on Commercial Space focused on private sector activities in space and featured presentations on satellite commerce by Bob Cenker, crew and cargo services by Jim Voss with Brett Alexander of t/Space, Volker Roth of Boeing, and Yuri Usachev presenting Russian efforts, as well as an overview of space tourism activities by Chris Faraneta of Space Adventures, with Rick Searfoss providing an update on the technical development of commercial spaceflight vehicles. The International Space Programs Review session, running concurrently, was chaired by Chris Hadfield and Leroy Chiao and featured a briefing by Bill Readdy on the NASA Headquarters perspective on ISS and the future, a discussion of life on the space station by recent expedition crewmember Leroy Chiao, a report on the Canadian space program by Chris Hadfield, and a report on the recent Shuttle flight and design changes by Ed Lu.
Tuesday afternoon the fliers and spouses traveled to the world-famous Sundance Resort near Park City, where they had a brief tour on the chair-lift, a barbeque dinner and an evening exhibition of Native American dance, culminating in the inspiring and majestic Hoop Dance.
Wednesday was the traditional Congress Community Day, where the delegates participated in public events and visited educational institutions in the local communities; fliers traveled by air and by road to visit over 100,000 K-12 students in 39 of Utah’s 40 school districts.
On Thursday the fliers were hosted by Foundation sponsor ATK Thiokol in Promontory, Utah, where they conducted the Crew Safety & Technical Issues session and were escorted on a tour of the ATK complex, including a stop at the SRM processing facilities. At the session, Charlie Precourt and Mike Conn (ATK) briefed the group on Thiokol’s plans for a future Crew Launch Vehicle to support the Vision for Space Exploration and Chris Hadfield reported on Astronaut Office activities with regard to maintaining on-orbit training and skills proficiency for long-duration crews. Alexander Serebrov talked about on-orbit electromagnetic radiation and its effect on crew health and productivity and Viktor Savinykh, in a slight departure from the theme of the session provided the results of his work in utilizing space-based assets for monitoring and characterizing natural disasters and other significant weather phenomena.
Following lunch at ATK, the fliers traveled to the Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Lab in Logan, where the final technical session of the Congress took place. Chaired by Michel Tognini and Yuri Usachev, the Future Programs session included a report by Tom Jones on options for asteroid exploration, exploitation and Earth-impact mitigation, Yuri Usachev described the Kliper crew vehicle program currently under development in Russia, Georgi Grechko gave a provocative and humorous personal perspective on the past, present and future of human space exploration and Piero Messina from ESA briefed the group on the Aurora Program. Michel Tognini closed out the session with an update on the European ATV and the possibilities for European exploration beyond low-Earth orbit. Returning to Salt Lake City, the fliers and spouses attended an evening rehearsal of, and were given a standing ovation by, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Friday morning the fliers gathered for the second Executive Session, where a spirited discussion ensued over the desirability of including suborbital space flight participants as members of the Association. While the issue was eventually tabled for future discussion, it did result in a minor change to the international ASE Charter, with the new language requiring at least one orbit of the earth in space in a spacecraft. The delegates also approved an Open Letter on NEO's as well as the formation of an ASE Ad-Hoc Committee on NEO’s, chaired by Rusty Schweickart and tasked with pursuing the issue at the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.
Additionally, Belarus was approved as the site of the XX Congress in 2006, Scotland as the site of the XXI Congress in 2007 and Switzerland was given the right of first refusal for the XXII Congress in 2008. In international executive committee elections, Miroslaw Hermaszewski was elected to a three-Congress term, replacing outgoing Executive Committee member Tokhtar Aubakirov. That afternoon the fliers and spouses traveled to Olympic Park near Park City, where they were treated to a trampoline exhibition by US Olympic Ski Team members; following lunch at the park, many of the delegates took advantage of the opportunity to tour the facilities as well as participate in bobsled, ski-lift and zipline rides.
Friday evening, the attendees were shuttled to the Wells Fargo Building for the Closing Ceremony and awards banquet. After brief remarks by Jake Garn, the group was serenaded by the International Children’s Choir; after dinner, the Executive Committee presented ASE medallions to Viktor Savinykh and Charlie Walker for their longtime efforts in support of the organization, to Tokhtar Aubakirov and Mamoru Mohri (in absentia) for hosting the XVII and XVIII Congresses, respectively, and, accompanied by a particularly moving video tribute, to Gennadi Strekalov (posthumous) for his service as president of ASE-Russia. Following a formal invitation to Belarus for the XX Congress by Vladimir Kovolyonok, Jake Garn thanked the delegates for their participation and formally closed the XIX Planetary Congress.