For the eighth consecutive year, astronauts from around the world assembled at their premier annual professional forum, the Planetary Congress of the Association of Space Explorers. In August of 1992, ninety-nine astronauts from eighteen countries traveled to the United States to participate in the 8th ASE Congress, the largest and most diverse gathering of space fliers in history. ASE-USA hosted the event, which took place at Georgetown University in Washington DC and at The Greenbrier in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia. An organizing committee headed by ASE-USA board member John-David Bartoe planned and executed the Washington portion, and West Virginia member Jon McBride orchestrated activities at The Greenbrier. To enable the Congress to take place, an international host committee of individuals and organizations generously contributed financial support and a wide array of in-kind services. The Congress agenda included a session devoted to the Congress theme "To Mars Together", an update on space agency programs, two technical sessions, joint programs with other space organizations, a community day, a general business session, and cultural and social outings.
At the opening ceremony, Georgetown University president Father Leo O'Donovan, Washington Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis, and NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin warmly welcomed the participants to the University and to the City of Washington. Administrator Goldin set the tone for the conference, asserting that exploration is wired "right into our DNA." He outlined a vision of the future in which humanity explores the heavens as a united species, and delivered a compelling rationale for a human mission to Mars.
To address the members at the "To Mars Together" Congress theme session which followed, ASE called upon the services of Mike Griffin, NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration, Carl Sagan, astronomer and author, and Nandasiri Jasentuliyana, Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. Dr. Griffin opened with a presentation of NASA's latest plans for a return to the moon as a prelude to a human Mars mission. He held open several possibilities for international cooperation in the venture. Dr. Sagan spelled out the myriad potential costs and benefits of an international human mission to Mars. He suggested that to convince people of the value of such a project, its advocates must articulate its many worthy rationales and commit to broad international involvement. Mr. Jasentuliyana outlined many of the technical, political, economic and social challenges posed by a human mission to Mars. He noted that past transnational cooperation in space exploration has prepared us for an historic post-Cold War opportunity to combine resources and work together on this mission of unprecedented scope.
To round out the session, ASE members Tom Stafford, Valentina Tereshkova and Konstantin Feoktistov joined the invited speakers on the panel. Stafford called upon spacefaring nations jointly to use the space technologies they have separately developed to avoid "reinventing the wheel" on the way to Mars. Tereshkova updated the members on Russian Mars plans for 1996 and 1998, appealing for international participation on both missions. Feoktistov suggested that the application of the knowledge we gain about our world, our universe, and about living in space may be the most compelling argument for missions to Mars.
At the session devoted to updates on space program activities, members involved in recent missions reported on the results of their work. Sergei Krikalev and Igor Volk described Russia's activities, showing video footage from Krikalev's space walks during his recent ten-month Mir mission and giving an update on the Buran program. Astronaut Office chief Dan Brandenstein, Dick Richards, Bonnie Dunbar and John-David Bartoe reported on U.S. program activities. Their presentations included a review of the past year of shuttle flights, a report on the results of the STS 50 U.S Microgravity Laboratory mission, and plans for international participation on Space Station Freedom. Presenting for Europe, Wubbo Ockels outlined the European Space Agency's (ESA) plans for the Columbus space station. Concluding the session, a diverse set of international flyers reported on their recent guest missions aboard a U.S. shuttle or Russia's Mir station. The group included Dirk Frimout of Belgium, Franco Malerba of Italy, Claude Nicollier of Switzerland, Toyohiro Akiyama of Japan, Franz Viehbock of Austria and Michel Tognini of France.
At the first of two Congress technical sessions which followed, members discussed several ideas and initiatives now under consideration and development by various sectors of the international space community. Bryan O'Connor and Valeri Ryumin shared some of the results of their joint work on the possible adaptation of Soyuz as a crew rescue vehicle for the ISS. Pete Conrad followed with a report on McDonnell Douglas's continuing development of single stage-to-orbit-technology. Europeans Ernst Messerschmid and Wubbo Ockels concluded with a comparison of the advantages of winged vs. unwinged spacecraft. A second technical session focused on the futures of the space agencies. In discussing the U.S. program, Senator Jake Garn made an impassioned plea for a reinvigorated national political and financial commitment to space exploration. Alexei Leonov and Igor Volk outlined the challenges and opportunities facing the newly created Russian Space Agency. For the European side, Wubbo Ockels and Reinhard Furrer previewed a range of ESA programs planned for the next decade.
On the Congress community day, an annual activity devoted to educational interaction with the general public, members addressed several community audiences as well as three groups of incoming freshmen at Georgetown University. John-David Bartoe, Michel Tognini and Don Williams welcomed new arts and sciences, language and business students. Other members spoke to public audiences on topics ranging from space medicine, space stations and astronomy to space sciences and exploration, spacecraft design and space commerce. Throughout the day, several members joined younger students in a Georgetown gymnasium to help construct a simulated Martian colony, a project organized by the Challenger Center for Space Science Education.