ASE XX Planetary Congress

"50 Years in Space–Launching into the Future"

17-21 September 2007
Edinburgh, Scotland


Seventy-three astronauts and cosmonauts from 15 nations gathered September 17-21, 2007 in Edinburgh, Scotland for the XX Planetary Congress of the Association of Space Explorers. Hosted by Careers Scotland, 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 over 45 school districts all over Scotland. The theme of the Twentieth Congress was “50 Years in Space ­– Launching into the Future”, in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the launch of the first artificial satellite into space.

The Congress began Monday morning with the traditional Opening Ceremony, held at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in downtown Edinburgh. Helen Sharman opened the session with a welcome to the delegates and their spouses on behalf of the UK fliers and introduced Congress host Alex Blackwood of Careers Scotland. Blackwood welcomed the participants on behalf of the host nation and gave a brief overview of the role of Careers Scotland in promoting science and technology among Scottish students. ASE co-president Alexei Leonov followed and asked the participants to rise for a moment of silence in memory of recently deceased US astronauts Charles Brady and Wally Schirra. John Fabian then took the podium  and introduced the Congress theme “50 Years in Space – Launching into the Future,” and recognized the contributions of the many space explorers in attendance at the Congress. Fabian reintroduced Leonov, who recounted the 50 year history of spaceflight and noted the contributions of the early pioneers such as Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Robert Goddard, Sergei Korolev and Verner von Braun; Leonov also pointed out that today marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of Tsiolkovsky.

(View Photos from the Opening Ceremony)

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 in the foyer.

The first session of the Congress took place Monday afternoon, also at the Sheraton Grand Hotel. Chaired by Russian cosmonaut Georgi Grechko, the Theme Session, titled “Foundations of Space” explored the philosophical, historical and technical underpinnings of the first 50 years of spaceflight, as well as the roadmap for the future human exploration of space. Grechko opened the session with a presentation on the contributions of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the founder of theoretical cosmonautics and considered by many to be the “father” of human spaceflight. Cosmonaut Alexander Alexandrov followed with a detailed presentation on the early Soviet rockets and the successful effort to launch the first artificial Earth satellite (Sputnik), and US astronaut Carl Walz  provided a look ahead at the future of human exploration with a presentation on NASA’s Human Research Program, an effort to improve crew health and performance standards for exploration-class missions.

Monday evening, the fliers and spouses were bussed to the nearby Edinburgh Castle for a welcome reception in the Great Hall, hosted by the Scottish Government.  After brief welcome remarks from Jim Mather, Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism and Danny Logue, Acting Director of Careers Scotland, the delegates were treated to a private viewing of the Scottish Crown Jewels.

(View Photos from Edinburgh Castle)

On Tuesday, the delegates and spouses split into two groups; one group of fliers and spouses traveled to Stirling Castle for a tour (view photos), followed by a brief visit to the nearby Wallace Monument. After the visit to Stirling, the group traveled to the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow for the afternoon technical sessions. Meanwhile, the second group spent the day on a guided tour of Edinburgh and its environs. Group A, after a buffet lunch at the University, assembled in the John Anderson Building lecture hall where the traditional “International Space Programs Review” session was held. Chaired by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, the session featured a presentation by Japanese astronaut Chiaki Mukai on JAXA astronaut activities, presentations by Hadfield on the Canadian and US contributions to the ISS program, and a briefing by German astronaut Reinhold Ewald on ESA’s plans for ISS utilization and ATV operations. Ewald concluded the session with a remarkable 3-D video tour of the International Space Station, filmed and guided by Thomas Reiter. (watch the session)

While the fliers were in session, the spouses and companions toured the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and then traveled to the nearby Cameron House Hotel on Loch Lomond for afternoon tea.

After touring Edinburgh, group B traveled to Glasgow to join group A at the University for the second technical session of the day. Titled “A Question of Space”, the joint ASE/University session was co-chaired by US astronaut Jeff Hoffman and Dr. David Clarke of Rolls Royce. The session was modeled on the popular BBC debate television program "Question Time" and featured a panel of ASE members and representatives of the University of Strathclyde. Representing ASE on the panel were astronauts Nicholas Patrick, Jan Davis, Chris Hadfield, and cosmonaut Oleg Atkov. Representing the University were Professors Maria Fox, Colin McInnes, John Anderson, Jim McDonald and Dr. Helen Fraser. Questions from students and faculty were addressed by the panel on the subjects of thinking robots, advanced propulsion, life on Mars, disease and infection control, and future electrical energy systems. (watch the session)

(View Photos from University of Strathclyde)

Following the session, the delegates were hosted by the University for dinner at the nearby Barony Hall.

Wednesday was the traditional Congress Community Day; the delegates participated in public and media events and traveled by air and by road to visit over 60,000 middle and high school students all across Scotland. The companions, meanwhile, had a free  morning of sightseeing and shopping, followed by an afternoon tour of Hopetoun House.

On Wednesday evening, ASE members Jay Apt, Viktor Savinykh and Sergei Avdeev participated in an evening lecture in partnership with the Royal Society of Edinburgh and as part of the Edinburgh Lecture Series. The fliers presented, from the astronauts' perspectives, observable manifestations of changes in the Earth's environment over the course of the last 40 years.

On Thursday, groups A and B switched itineraries, with group A taking the tour of Edinburgh and group B traveling to Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument. After their morning excursion, group B gathered in the Assembly Halls at the University of Edinburgh for the afternoon technical sessions. The first session, titled Future Programs, was chaired by US astronaut Karol Bobko and featured a presentation by Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov on Russia’s space exploration plans, a comprehensive overview (also download embedded video) of the US Vision for Space Exploration by David Leestma, a briefing on commercial space activities by Jim Voss, and a look ahead at Europe’s roadmap for space exploration and utilization by Reinhold Ewald.

With the return of group B to the University, the fliers participated in the second session of the afternoon, again a joint ASE/University session. Co-chaired by ASE member Yuri Baturin and University of Edinburgh professor John Grace, the session featured technical presentations by local faculty and scientists, with “space truth” responses by selected astronauts and cosmonauts. Professor Jose Torero discussed fire prevention and suppression in space, and Reinhold Ewald responded with a report of the realities of fire in space, based on his experience with the fire on board the Mir space station. Professor Mike Dixon followed with an examination of the benefits for long-duration missions of self-contained ecosystems, with Yuri Gidzenko giving the ASE response. Dr. Andrew Shepherd followed with a discussion of greenhouse gasses and climate change, particularly as they relate to the melting of the polar ice sheets; Mario Runco closed the session with his response, focusing on observations of environmental change from space. Fliers and spouses from both groups were hosted for dinner at the University.

(View Photos from Thursday)

Friday morning the fliers gathered for final technical session of the Congress, Wrestling with NEOs, which featured an in-depth discussion of the NEO impact hazard and a detailed report on the efforts of the ASE Committee on Near Earth Objects to develop an international NEO deflection protocol. Committee and session chair Rusty Schweickart opened the session with an overview of the NEO threat and potential deflection capabilities; Dorin Prunariu followed with a briefing on the Committee’s activities since its formation at the XIX Congress in 2005 and Tom Jones concluded the session with a look ahead at the Committee’s remaining two workshops and its plan for producing and disseminating the international deflection protocol in 2009.

Immediately following the NEO session, the second Executive Session was convened where ASE member Bonnie Dunbar proposed, and was approved by the membership to host the XXI Planetary Congress in Seattle, Washington. In international executive committee elections, Reinhold Ewald, Yuri Usachev and Charlie Walker were elected to three-Congress terms on the Executive Committee.

Meanwhile, the companions and spouses toured the Royal Yacht Britannia, after which they rejoined the fliers for a free afternoon of shopping and sightseeing.

The Closing Ceremony and Awards Banquet was held Friday evening at the Sheraton. Alex Blackwood opened the evening with some brief remarks; he introduced and was followed by the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, who thanked the delegates and spoke of the impact they had had on the many Scottish students who had benefited from the fliers’ visits during the week.

(View Photos from Closing Ceremony and Ceilidh)

After dinner, Alexei Leonov and John Fabian kicked off the awards ceremony by presenting the ASE Planetary Award, the Crystal Helmet, to Professor Ken Pounds of the Leicester University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy for his leadership in the development and promotion of space science in the United Kingdom. Executive Director Andy Turnage then took the podium and on behalf of the ASE gave the vote of thanks to Alex Blackwood, to the organizing committee and to the staff of Careers Scotland. The Executive Committee then presented Leonov Medallions to Professor Colin McInnes for his successful and important work in trajectory and mission analysis for solar sails, autonomous spacecraft control and space robotics, to Jake Garn for his work in hosting the XIX Congress in Salt Lake City, to Sergei Avdeev for his long service to the organization on the Executive Committee, and last but not least, to Alex Blackwood for his work and leadership on behalf of the very successful Scottish Space School. The evening, and a very successful Congress, concluded with a video montage of the week’s events and a traditional Scottish ceilidh.

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