Space explorers will land in Salt Lake City

Aldrin, Leonov and Garn: A chance to meet a man who walked on the moon
By Lisa Carricaburu
The Salt Lake Tribune
September 26, 2005

If you ever wanted to meet an astronaut or a cosmonaut, your chance has come.

On Oct. 9, the Association of Space Explorers will convene its annual Planetary Congress at the Grand America in Salt Lake City, and several events planned as part of the elite gathering will offer Utahns a unique glimpse at Aldrin, one of the first men to walk on the moon, or Leonov, the first man to walk in space.

The Salt Lake City meeting marks only the second time the 20-year-old organization made up of more than 250 astronauts and cosmonauts representing 27 nations has met in the United States; the first such meeting occurred in Washington, D.C., in 1992, said Garn, the event's organizer.

A former Salt Lake City mayor and three-term Utah senator, Garn made history in 1984 as the first member of Congress to fly aboard a space shuttle. He was a payload specialist on a seven-day mission on the Discovery Space Shuttle Flight 51-D.

He expects about 70 of his fellow space explorers to participate in the event that continues through Oct. 14 in Salt Lake City.

Alta High School senior Mark Sullivan designed the winning poster for ASE's Planetary Congress in Salt Lake City.

Participants will attend technical sessions, the first of which at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 10 is open to the public and will focus on the future of space exploration.

There will be plenty to discuss given NASA's announcement earlier this month that it will cost $104 billion over the next decade to send U.S. astronauts back to the moon.

NASA on Sept. 19 unveiled a new moon exploration plan that will use an improved shuttle to return astronauts to the moon by 2018. Utah's ATK Thiokol will continue to make the solid rocket motor boosters for the new shuttle, and the state's economic developers see the Space Explorers' gathering as an opportunity to promote ATK and other companies that make up Utah's aerospace industry.

Astronauts in attendance will tour ATK's Promontory plant as well as the Space Dynamics Laboratory at Utah State University in Logan, said Michael Sullivan, spokesman for the Governor's Office of Economic Development.

Companies including Rocky Mountain Composites and Adam Aircraft will have exhibits and play host to discussions about commercial opportunities in space. Industry exhibits at the Grand America will be open to students and others with a specific interest in the state's aerospace industry from 1:30-4:30 p.m. on Oct. 10 and from 7 a.m. to noon on Oct. 11.

And importantly, astronauts will spend time in schools throughout the state to spark students' interest in science and space.

All 40 Utah school districts and some private schools will hold events during which students will meet astronauts and learn about space.

Garn considers this a critical component of the Planetary Congress.

"It has enormous value whether children aspire to be astronauts or not," he said. "Children need to get the message that they must educate themselves as broadly as possible so that when opportunities present themselves, they'll be ready."

© Copyright 2005, The Salt Lake Tribune.