Twenty-five astronauts and cosmonauts from eleven countries gathered in Bucharest, Romania, October 4-9 for the 15th Annual Planetary Congress of the Association of Space Explorers. Hosted by Romanian cosmonaut Dumitru Prunariu, the theme of the 15th Congress was Space and AstronomyToward the New Millennium.
The Opening Ceremony of the Congress was held Monday morning at the Parliament Palace in central Bucharest. In addition to the fliers, members of the local press and representatives of Romania's scientific community, the ceremony was attended by Romanian President Emil Constaninescu and US Ambassador to Romania James Rosapepe. Romanian cosmonaut Dumitru Prunariu opened the session by welcoming the assembled fliers to Romania and introducing the members of the executive committee and President Constantinescu, who greeted the assembled fliers and discoursed on the benefits derived from space exploration and technology; he also expressed his belief that these benefits should be available not only to post-industrialized countries, but also to all developing countries.
ASE Co-President Alexei Leonov, speaking on behalf of the delegations, welcomed the fliers and attending dignitaries and gave a brief overview of ASE Congresses and the role of ASE members as ambassadors of space exploration. Executive Committee members Charlie Walker, Miroslaw Hermaszewski, Gennadi Strekalov and Viktor Savinykh then each addressed the session with brief remarks about the Association and its role in promoting international cooperation in space. Following these remarks, the Executive Committee presented President Constantinescu with a Leonov Medallion in recognition of his personal efforts in support of the 15th Congress. Following the ceremony, the delegations toured the Parliament Palace and gathered for the official Congress group photo. Prior to departing for lunch, a press conference was held to announce the opening of the Congress and to discuss the theme of the Congress.
After lunch at the Casino Palace restaurant, a member session was held and given the lack of substantial technical presentations scheduled for the Congress, a lively discussion was conducted about the future of the Association and the need for members to participate in and contribute to the technical content of the Congresses. Gordon Fullerton, in the first of two presentations, gave an update on the X-38 flight test program. That evening, the fliers and spouses were invited to a reception hosted by US Ambassador to Romania James Rosapepe.
Tuesday was Community Day. In the morning, the fliers were organized into groups which visited multiple venues throughout Bucharest, including the Polytechnic University of Bucharest, the Jean Monet College, the Media Pro printing house, Adevarul newspaper, Radio Total, and the Tuborg Beer Factory. Several fliers participated in a live internet discussion with Swedish students from the world trade center. That afternoon, another short member session was held and Gordon Fullerton gave the second part of his presentation, this time on his experimental flight test program onboard the Russian TU-144 supersonic transport aircraft. Tokhtar Aubakirov also gave a brief presentation on his plans for the 17th Congress (2001), which will be held in Kazakhstan and will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the flight of Yuri Gagarin. In the evening, the delegations attended a fashion show and reception at the Elisabeta Palace.
Wednesday morning, the theme session of the congress was held at the Bucharest University. The session began with a review by Dorin Prunariu of the UN Declaration on Space Week, promulgated at the UNISPACE III conference in Vienna, Austria. Marius-Ioan Piso, executive director of the Romanian Space Agency, followed with a discussion on the history of the Romanian Space Agency and its various partnership with international agencies. Marie-Jose Deutsch of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory gave a detailed presentation of NASA Great Observatories program; Dumitru Hasegan of the Romanian Institute of Space Science provided a glimpse of Romanian space science activities and Magdalena Stavinschi of the Astronomical Institute of the Romanian Academy of Sciences presented the observations of the Institute of the total solar eclipse of August 11. A lunch reception was held at the Russian Embassy after which the fliers returned to the hotel for the traditional poster signing session. That evening, the delegations traveled to the Cotreceni Palace for a performance of the Romanian Philharmonic Orchestra and a reception hosted by the National Security Advisor to the President Dorin Marian. Included in the evening's program was a brief ceremony where the ASE annual planetary award, the Crystal Helmet, was awarded to Academician Virgiliu N. Constantinescu.
Thursday morning the delegations departed Bucharest for Sinaia, where they visited Peles Castle and made a brief stop to visit with attendees to the 1999 International Seminar on Microelectronics. Continuing on to Brasov, the fliers and spouses took an afternoon walking tour of the city and enjoyed some free time before participating in the Closing Ceremony at the Aro Palace restaurant that evening.
Friday began with a visit to the University of Brasov, where the fliers held a panel discussion with students, faculty and local dignitaries. The day continued with a visit to Bran Castle, home of the legendary Count Dracula and an evening folklore show and dinner in Poiana Brasov. During the evening elections to the international executive committee were held and Charlie Walker was re-elected to a second term and Tokhtar Aubakirov and Patrick Baudry were elected to fill seats vacated by outgoing committee members Alexei Leonov and Ulf Merbold.