VIII Congress of the Association of Space Explorers
Washington, D.C.
August 23-30, 1992

Theme: "To Mars Together"
Crystal Helmet Award: Isaac Asimov
Hosts: John-David Bartoe, Jon McBride


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.

At its annual Congress award ceremony, ASE honored author Isaac Asimov and presented a special award to the Challenger Center for Space Science Education. Asimov, a prolific science fiction writer and author of syndicated scientific articles, was a committed advocate of human space exploration. ASE chose Asimov to receive the Planetary Award before his passing, and at his wife's recommendation Dr. Carl Sagan accepted the award on his behalf. Sagan, with Mrs. Asimov on hand, paid tribute to the writer's powerful and original contribution to our collective imagination of life in space. ASE presented a special award, its first to an organization, to Challenger Center, for its unparalleled contribution to the quality education of the next generation. Founded by the families of the Challenger astronauts, the Center uses space themes to create positive experiences that raise students' expectation of success, foster long term interest in science, math and technology, and motivate them to pursue studies in these areas. The award, a crystal pyramid depicting the Challenger launch sculpted by David Sugar and Carol Iselin, stands on public display at the Center's Virginia headquarters.

Midway through the 8th Congress the members traveled by train to The Greenbrier in West Virginia for a change of venue. Several members reported on their space flight experiences at a Greenbrier osteopathic conference, while others took time out for recreational activities. By night the delegations dined and danced to the music of local bands. Social and cultural activities in Washington included a boat ride on the Potomac, a viewing of the IMAX film "The Dream is Alive" followed by a reception at the National Air and Space Museum, and a dinner sponsored by Purdue University. Spouses and companions enjoyed a tour of the White House, shopping expeditions, and visits to the homes of local astronauts.

Among business matters accomplished at the Congress, members elected Ulf Merbold of Germany and reelected Bertalan Farkas of Hungary to the ASE international executive committee. Members also approved a charter amendment enabling international astronauts to join ASE between Congresses. Finally, the delegates passed a resolution authorizing ASE-USA to explore possible observer status for ASE with the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

In a General Statement released at the Congress the members called for expanded cooperation among nations to develop and execute a human mission to Mars. ASE participants and invited experts agreed that placing an international Mars mission high on the human agenda will lead to deeper intercultural cooperation, technical breakthroughs, educational motivation and financial benefits. The high costs of investing in a Mars mission would result in a substantial economic, scientific and technological return, the statement suggests. If many cooperating nations share this investment, the impact on individual nations will decrease. Such a course would likely make the venture more politically palatable than inherently expensive unilateral efforts.

In a humanitarian footnote, after the Congress the Russian delegation's charter jet carried a relief shipment of medical supplies back to Moscow. Local groups subsequently distributed the aid to clinics and hospitals in both Moscow and St. Petersburg. The relief organization Operation Helping Hand, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Air Force all contributed resources to the effort, which enabled the Russian aircraft to be serviced and fueled for the flight home.

VIII Congress Poster | VIII Congress Proceedings | Photos