In the largest such gathering in history, fifty astronauts and cosmonauts from twelve countries gathered in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for the Fifth Annual Planetary Congress hosted by HRH Prince Sultan bin Salman al-Saud. During the week long event the members re-established acquaintances, strengthened professional bonds and called on all spacefaring nations to cooperate in the areas of space rescue and the use of space for the benefit of Earth.
On the opening day the participants heard updates on national space program exploration activities. Robert Overmyer reported on each of the US shuttle flights since the previous Congress and Sergei Krikalev briefed the group on the joint Soviet-French flight, the end of the year-long MIR flight, his departure from MIR, the flight of Valeri Polyakov and Vladimir Volkov in the Spring and the planned launch of the next MIR module.
The topic of the second day revolved around the theme "Space for Earth". In his keynote address, Crystal Helmet awardee Yash Pal of India, known for his design of a satellite network to serve rural Indian villages, stated that many tangible benefits of space, including global and regional communications and the acquisition of meteorological data were already benefiting a large number of people on Earth. He suggested that space exploration and development had begun and would continue to bring new ideas and generate new myths. Human behavior, he said, including aggression and divisiveness, can be modified by the space experience over time. Dr. Pal concluded by comparing the Earth to a patient in need of a complete examination to understand what is happening to it, and suggested that space technologies can contribute to that understanding. He proposed a World Institute for Space to investigate and correlate phenomena and technological development and apply space-derived benefits for all humanity.
Charlie Walker (US) followed the keynote address with a presentation on materials and physical processes and their applications to life on Earth. Biomedical process and substance research, he said, shows great promise for new, improved medicines and treatments on earth. Research into electrokinesis, phase separation of materials,protein crystallization, low-gravity animal and plant gestation and growth, physiological processes in weightlessness, metallurgy, semi- and superconducting, thin-film coatings, optical glasses, polymers and catalysts is all proceeding apace with yet untold benefits for humanity. The laboratory of space, he concluded, is only limited by the human imagination and the will to apply the knowledge gained there.
Viktor Savinykh (USSR) followed with a discussion of work performed and planned in the field of remote sensing and cartography. Savinykh suggested that space provides unequalled potential for observation of Earth's land, sea and air. Earth observation and data-gathering from space have enhanced agricultural processes, water management, land reclamation, forestry and transportation, and greatly contributed to environmental preservation. Savinykh said that mapping and the study of planetary phenomena are also applicable to other bodies in the solar system. Exploitation of these capabilities, he concluded, will only happen with educated and skilled operators and the global dissemination of new knowledge.