Space veterans to converge on SLC

Planetary Congress: The Association of Space Explorers will be here in October
By Greg Lavine
The Salt Lake Tribune
January 7, 2005

Governer Jon Huntsman Jr. was on hand to announce that Salt Lake City is hosting the Association of Space Explorers XIX Planetary Congress in the fall of 2005, at the Clark Planetarium.
Rick Egan - The Salt Lake Tribune

For a week in October, Salt Lake City will boast the world's highest concentration of humans who have orbited the Earth.

Utah is scheduled to host the Association of Space Explorers' 19th annual international Planetary Congress from Oct. 9 to 15.

Former U.S. Sen. Jake Garn, who shot into space in 1985 aboard the space shuttle Discovery, helped announce the event on Thursday. Garn, a lifetime member of the group, said events will include astronauts and cosmonauts visiting schools across the state.

About 80 space explorers from various nations are expected to participate, state and local officials said during a media event at Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake City. Only those who have been in space are allowed to join the group.

"This event will focus the attention of the world upon us," Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon said, likening the impact of the upcoming gathering to the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Though without a global television audience. And no gold medals.

Former U.S. Sen. Jake Garn, who flew aboard space shuttle Discovery in 1985, is a lifetime member of the Association of Space Explorers, which will convene its annual gathering in Salt Lake City
Rick Egan - The Salt Lake Tribune

That's not to say there are no awards up for grabs. An astronaut, cosmonaut - or maybe even a Chinese taikonaut - will walk away with the Crystal Helmet, an award recognizing significant global contributions to space flight.

Andy Turnage, executive director for the group, said he hopes China will send its first taikonaut, Yang Liwei, to the congress. Astronauts from around the world would be interested in hearing about the nation's young space program, Turnage said.

"China is the newest member of the human spaceflight community," he said.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. offered his Mandarin Chinese language skills to invite Yang to the Utah conference.

Huntsman said this international meeting will bring attention to Utah's space enterprises, including the Space Dynamics Laboratory, part of the Utah State University Research Foundation, and ATK Thiokol, which builds rocket motors.

The newly elected governor also noted the educational aspect of the meeting, as astronauts and cosmonauts will visit schools to inspire students to pay attention to math and science. Huntsman recalled his own encounter with a cosmonaut when he was a young student.

"It stood out in my mind as a truly remarkable experience," he said.

Organizers will try to send one astronaut or cosmonaut to each of the state's 40 school districts. There will also be events for the public, including a "world-renowned speaker" to be determined, Garn said.

Garn said he expected cosmonaut Alexis Leonov, the first human to step outside an orbiting spacecraft, to be at the meeting. When the former senator worked with Leonov in training simulations, he made an error that in real life would have killed the cosmonaut.

"He's never let me forget it," Garn joked.

The Association of Space Explorers, with 300 members from 29 nations, is a nonprofit professional and education group. This is the first time in more than 15 years that the congress has been held in the United States.

"There really is a brotherhood," Garn said of the group, "no matter what country you represent."

© Copyright 2005, The Salt Lake Tribune.