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.