XXI Congress of the Association of Space Explorers
Seattle, Washington
September 14-20, 2008

Theme: "Exploring Space, Inspiring Planetary Stewardship”
Planetary Award: William E. Boeing, Jr.
Host: Bonnie J. Dunbar

Forty-seven astronauts and cosmonauts representing fifteen nations gathered September 14-20, 2008 in Seattle, Washington for the XXI Planetary Congress of the Association of Space Explorers. The theme of the XXI Congress was “Exploring Space – Inspiring Planetary Stewardship”, reflecting the Association’s belief that humanity’s continued expansion into space will ultimately result in greater awareness of, and care for, our home planet. The Congress was hosted by Seattle Museum of Flight president and former astronaut Bonnie Dunbar and underwritten by Title Sponsor Boeing Integrated Defense Systems.

On Monday morning, the delegates, spouses, dignitaries and invited guests gathered at the Sheraton Hotel for the Opening Ceremony of the Congress. The session opened with a video tour of Seattle, its sights, people and places. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels made a few brief remarks, welcoming the delegates to the Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. Master of Ceremonies and Congress host Bonnie Dunbar then introduced keynote speaker Jim Albaugh of the Boeing Company, who talked about the U.S. space program and Boeing’s role in the development of the nation’s spacefaring capabilities. Albaugh also remarked on the efficacy of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education in the United States, characterizing the decline in student interest in these fields as tantamount to “intellectual disarmament”.

Co-chairs John Fabian and Yuri Usachev then welcomed the fliers to the Congress. Usachev recognized the new members of the organization attending their first Congress, then called for a moment of silence in memory of G. David Low and Ron Parise, both of whom passed away in the interval since the last Congress. Fabian reviewed the history of the organization and its Congresses, presented a brief overview of the XXI Congress program and thanked Bonnie Dunbar, her organizing team, and the sponsors for their efforts in organizing the week’s events.

Following the Opening Ceremony, the members of the Executive Committee participated in a news conference while the remaining delegates, spouses, students and invited guest mingled in the foyer. After lunch, the fliers and spouses traveled to the nearby Museum of Flight for the Theme Session of the Congress. Chaired by ASE–USA President Bo Bobko, the session featured an inspirational presentation by former astronaut Bill Anders, who shared his experiences of viewing the Earth from lunar orbit, a presentation by Tom Jones on how we can learn about the earth and its environment by studying other planets in our solar system, and a presentation by Gary Lagerloef of the Earth & Space Research institute on ocean physics and climatology with an emphasis on developing new applications for remote sensing. Lagerloef’s slides showing the North Polar ice cap, as constructed from satellite data, illustrate one of the issues the planet faces as a result of global climate change. Following a short break, the speakers reconvened for a panel discussion, with questions from the audience, on the value of space exploration and space-based assets for environmental monitoring and protection. Following the Theme Session, the delegates toured the Museum of Flight and posed for the group photo.

Monday evening the delegates were treated to a reception and dinner high above Seattle in the world famous Space Needle. During the reception, the Association took the opportunity to award Leonov Medallions to People for Puget Sound Executive Director Kathy Fletcher for her role in protecting and preserving the waters, coastal habitats and endangered species of Puget Sound as well as to Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels for his leadership role in the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.

On Tuesday, the fliers traveled to the University of Washington for the day’s technical program while their spouses and guests enjoyed excursions to the Seattle Art Museum, the Pike Place Market and lunch at Ivar’s. The first technical session of the day was the traditional International Space Programs Review, chaired by German astronaut Reinhold Ewald.

US astronaut Catherine ‘Cady’ Coleman opened the session with an overview of ISS assembly from the US perspective, stressing the importance of teamwork between ground and flight crews due to the growing number of complex tasks on board the ISS. Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov followed with a report on the recent Soyuz ballistic re-entries, noting that the cause of these off-nominal re-entries was found to be an incomplete separation of the engine compartment from the descent module, possibly due to a failure of the explosive separation bolts. Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency followed with an overview of Canadian space activities and the interplay between manned and unmanned space operations. Italian-born astronaut Paolo Nespoli represented ESA in this session and reported on the rapid succession of flights and hardware additions of European origin that have been recently added to the ISS. JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide followed, describing his role in the launch and deployment of the Japanese laboratory module ‘Kibo’. The session concluded with a panel discussion on the respective space agencies’ plans for ISS utilization and exploration beyond earth orbit.

Following lunch at the Microsoft Grill on the campus of the University, the fliers re-convened in Meany Hall for the second technical session of the day. Chaired by Congress host Bonnie Dunbar, the session explored the medical challenges in long-duration human space exploration. 

Following the second technical session, the fliers departed the University of Washington and traveled directly to the Seattle waterfront, where they met their spouses and loaded aboard the Lady Mary for an evening cruise on the waters of Puget Sound and a traditional Native American salmon bake at the nearby Kiana Lodge.

Wednesday was the traditional Community Day, with fliers fanning out to visit schools, universities and community organizations; it is estimated that the event reached over 42,000 students state-wide. The geographic reach of the event was vast ­– assemblies were held in various communities across the state: from a home school group in Oak Harbor to elementary students in Vancouver; from middle schoolers in Bremerton to teens in the Tri-Cities area and college students in Pullman. Many of the spouses traveled with the fliers to their respective Community Day assignments, while others enjoyed a day-long excursion to Mt. Rainer and the Snoqualmie Ski Area. (see samples of responses from the schools)

Thursday morning, the fliers traveled to the Microsoft Campus in Redmond for the final two technical sessions of the Congress. The first session of the day was chaired by Charlie Walker and featured an in-depth look at international research efforts on the international space station. The session opened with brief remarks by former Microsoft executive and space flier Charles Simonyi, who recounted his own research efforts aboard the ISS and noted the growing capacity of the orbital platform to perform science activities. Following Simonyi’s welcome, the delegates were treated to a demonstration of Microsoft’s innovative new World Wide Telescope.

Masafumi Yamamoto, Director of JAXA’s Houston office, gave the first technical briefing with an update on the status of the JEM, Japan’s most recent contribution to the ISS. ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang then gave an overview of ESA’s plan for utilization of the Columbus module, and Carl Walz followed with a report on US science activities and plans. Mark Weislogel of Portland State University closed the session with a report on the challenges of fluid management in a microgravity environment.

After lunch, the fliers convened the last technical session of the Congress, Making the Case for the Moon and Mars. Chaired by Aviation Week president Tom Henricks, the session featured commentary by Wendell Mendell on the scientific reasons to return to the Moon and on to Mars and a presentation by Carole Hedden on the educational benefits of extraterrestrial exploration. The fliers also participated in live teleconferences with the Mars Phoenix control team as well as with the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, who described the research activities at the South Pole and the challenges associated with conducting science in such a harsh environment. Rounding out the session, Carl Walz gave a briefing on NASA’s proposed lunar mission architecture, Ken Reightler described Lockheed Martin’s Orion crew vehicle, and Tom Jones reported on the possibility of using crewed missions to Near Earth Objects as precursor missions to Mars.

Immediately after the afternoon session, the fliers convened the second of two Executive Sessions. Rusty Schweickart reported on the activities of the ASE Near Earth Objects Committee and previewed its report “Asteroid Threats: A Call for Global Response”, which will be delivered to the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in February, 2009. The delegates also received and unanimously accepted a formal invitation from Vladimir Remek to hold the XXII Congress in the Czech Republic, as well as a tentative proposal by Sheikh Muszaphar to host the XXIII Congress in Malaysia. The organization also held elections to the international Executive Committee, with Dick Richards (US) and Bertalan Farkas (Hungary) elected to three-Congress terms, replacing outgoing Executive Committee members John Fabian (US) and Alexei Leonov (Russia).

XXI Congress Poster