From October 37, 1988, the Association of Space Explorers held its Fourth Planetary Congress in Sofia, Bulgaria, hosted by the two Bulgarian cosmonauts, Georgi Ivanov and Alexander Alexandrov. The theme chosen for the Congress was Space Evolution and renowned Soviet space engineer Boris Raushenbakh was invited to present the keynote speech and to receive the annual ASE Planetary Award.
The Congress opened with a moment of silence for Donn Eisele and Anatoli Levchenko, astronaut and cosmonaut who died during the preceding year. Leading the agenda was an update on the activities of the national space programs: Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Romanenko described his record- breaking 326 day flight aboard the Mir orbital station in 1987, Alexander Alexandrov reported on the recent second joint Soviet-Bulgarian mission, and Bob Overmyer gave an account of America's successful return to space with the Discovery mission. (The members watched a broadcast of the landing of Discovery that evening). John-David Bartoe completed the session with an summary of America's plans for the space station Freedom.
In his keynote address, Boris Raushenbakh described the nature of the evolving role that space and space technology have played in human life: the first years humans had a romantic, sporting approach to space exploration, followed by a current phase characterized by scientific and technological application. If humanity can develop a consciousness of global self-preservation that is proportionate to its technological ability to harm itself, he argued, then space technology, with its proven track record, can help leaders to make the world a better place, and indeed to defend against bombardment caused by the explosions of potentially volatile bodies in the solar system, such as Jupiter's moon Calisto.
The discussion of space evolution continued in several directions. Rusty Schweickart commented that in order to meet the global environmental challenges that face humankind, a change must occur in our understanding of ourselves to one characterized by planetary citizenship.
Walter Cunningham encouraged the members to look at the ways in which organizations and individuals might, as humanity increases its understanding of the universe by collecting data and translating it into knowledge, contribute to the appropriate and wise conversion of that knowledge into action to improve the world.
Vladimir Aksyonov asserted that the breakthroughs in values, information and awareness that come with space exploration must be committed to saving the Earth from the threat posed by humans and the impact of their technology.
Robert Overmyer emphasized that humanity's curiosity about extraterrestrial life and its love of the glorious adventure of new frontiers has resulted in the development of technologies that had a beneficial impact on solutions to some of the global challenges on Earth. An international venture to Mars, he said, would continue this process.
Wubbo Ockels suggested that just as our early ancestors began to walk erect, freeing their hands and hence accelerating the development of intelligence, a human move to the gravity-free environment of space, which would free up our whole bodies, may portend as significant a step in our evolution.
The members were unanimous in their agreement on the desirability of achieving a Universal Space Rescue capability, and many contributed their ideas on the subject. Vladimir Kovalyonok stated that a communications capability between all manned orbiting craft would provide substantial benefit to the performance and results of space work. Recalling his work on the Apollo-Soyuz mission, Nikolai Rukavishnikov lamented the absence of standardization and simplicity throughout all human spacecraft, and urged the ASE to work towards such a goal. Rusty Schweickart noted that mission elements as fundamental as language and terminology had to be internationally aligned as USR capability is developed.
As a result of these discussions, the members allowed that while the gathering engendered many good ideas about what to include in and how to implement USR, the logical course of action would be to further educate the membership at the next congress on the technical challenges involved. To this end, the decision was made to devote a full session at the Fifth Congress to the subject of space rescue, and to invest in two co-chairpersons for the session the authority to invite experts from the national and regional space programs to deliver expert opinions on the question.
In other business, the ASE authorized Bulgarian cosmonaut Georgi Ivanov to proceed with the international incorporation of the ASE in Switzerland, as well as to explore the possibility of becoming a UNESCO-affiliated non governmental organization. At the request of the Executive Committee, Alexei Leonov and Rusty Schweickart agreed to stay on in their positions as Committee members, Leonov for another full term and Schweickart for one more year. Finally, it was decided that the theme for the Fifth Congress would be Space for Earth.
The Bulgarian hosts provided extraordinary hospitality. The cultural program included excursions to monasteries and museums around the countryside, Bulgarian folk and classical music performances, mass welcoming ceremonies with hundreds of schoolchildren.