XXV Congress of the Association of Space Explorers
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
November 4-10, 2012

Theme: "Space Technology for a Knowledge-Based Society”
Planetary Award: Dr. Charles Elachi
Host: HRH Sultan bin Salman al-Saud

Ninety-four astronauts and cosmonauts from 19 countries gathered in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 4-10, 2012 for the XXV Planetary Congress of the Association of Space Explorers. The theme of the Congress was “Space Technology for Knowledge-Based Society”, reflecting ASE’s belief that the development of technologies and capabilities for space exploration directly contribute to the expansion of knowledge for the benefit of all humanity. The XXV Congress was hosted by HRH Prince Sultan bin Salman al-Saud.

The first day of the Congress began with an internal Executive Session, followed by an all-hands ASE General Assembly. The General Assembly featured briefings on current ASE activities and programs and updates by the regional ASE chapters.  Following the General Assembly and lunch at the hotel, the delegates traveled by bus to the King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) to take part in the Saudi International Space and Aeronautics Conference 2012, jointly organized by ASE and KACST.

The Theme Session of the Congress was chaired by Dr. Turki Bin Saud Bin Mohammed Al Saud, the Vice President of Research Institutes at KACST. The session focused on the relationship between space exploration and knowledge based societies. Dr. Turki started things off with a review of the Saudi National Science Technology and Innovation Plan, the strategic technologies that the plan drives, and the latest initiatives and activities in this regard. Dr. Khalid Al Sabti, the Deputy Minister of Education, followed and presented the Kingdom’s new educational initiatives and the role he expects them to play in the transition of Saudi Arabia towards a knowledge-based society.  ASE President Dorin Prunariu concluded the session with remarks about the direct benefits of space science, research and technology for the quality of life in underdeveloped nations.

The second afternoon session at KACST was chaired by the George Abbey, former Director of the NASA/Johnson Space Center.  Mr. Abbey opened the session with a broad overview of changes in US society since the advent of space exploration. The next speaker in this session was Dr. Charles Elachi, Director of the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL). He presented an exciting and detailed presentation about the Mars Curiosity rover mission and the many scientific activities being conducted by the rover on the surface of Mars. The final speaker on Monday afternoon was Mr. Thierry Duquesne, Director of Strategy, Programs and International Relations at the French Space Agency CNES. Thierry presented the CNES perspective on space exploration and how their strategy is implemented across five key domains: access to space; telecommunications, data collection and navigation; Earth, climate, and the environment; sciences of the universe, exploration; and security and defense. 

While the fliers were in session, the companions enjoyed a trip to one of Riyadh’s biggest shopping malls – Al Faisaliya – followed by a trip to the top of the second highest skyscraper – the Faisaliya tower. From the viewing deck of the Globe restaurant, they enjoyed a 360 degree view of the sprawling city and were treated to afternoon tea while the sun set over the desert city.

Monday concluded with the official Opening Ceremony, held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. The ceremony began with a pre-function reception where Prince Sultan launched the second edition of his popular book “One Planet.” Prince Sultan opened the ceremony, welcoming the delegates, spouses and distinguished guests as the Chairman of the 2012 ASE 25th Planetary Congress and thanked the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin AbdulAziz for his patronage and support of the event. He welcomed the ASE’s return to Riyadh after 20 years and expressed the pleasure of the Kingdom in hosting the space explorers and pioneers.

Aramco CEO Khalid Al Falih, the Congress’s leading sponsor, followed Sultan and noted that as the Kingdom moves from a nation of industry to a nation of technology, the space industry serves as an inspirational example showing that anything is possible. ASE president Dorin Prunariu then remarked how he hoped that the ASE visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would inspire school children around the country to follow their dreams and pursue careers in science and technology. The delegates then paused for a moment of silence in honor of Neil Armstrong, Alan Poindexter and Sally Ride.

The Executive Committee then awarded the ASE Crystal Helmet to Dr. Charles Elachi. Elachi, who shared a film of the Mars Science Laboratory mission, and the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars. He also shared his hopes for the future exploration of the red planet. The assembled guests were then treated to a recorded video message from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who relayed a warm message of congratulations to the attendees and recognized the important role of the ASE in promoting international cooperation in space.

Dr. Mohammed bin Ibrahim Al Suwaiyel, president of KACST, then took the podium, expressed his appreciation for the ASE visit to Riyadh and extended a warm welcome to all the participants. Next on the program Prince Sultan and Dr. Al Suwaiyel called to the stage the partner agencies and event sponsors to be recognized and thanked for their support and contributions to the success of the XXV Congress. The Opening Ceremony was followed by a gala banquet in honor of the attending astronauts, cosmonauts, space scientists, diplomatic corps and senior Saudi officials. 

On Tuesday morning, the fliers returned to KACST for the first technical session on “International Space Operations”. Chaired by astronauts Soichi Noguchi and Rex Walheim, the session opened with a presentation by Scott Kelly, the Operations Branch Chief of the International Space Station, who gave a detailed overview of the last twelve months of operations onboard the ISS. He was followed by astronaut Randy Bresnik who presented on the evolving commercial space exploration efforts. George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, provided an overview of Virgin Galactic activities, and Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei concluded the session with an overview of China’s space program and future missions.
The second technical session was held after a short coffee break and focused on space science, with Italian expert space scientist Dr. Remo Ruffini speaking about black holes and supernovas, Professor Francis Everitt from Stanford University discussing the Gravity Probe-B experiment results, and Dr. Taylor Wang from Vanderbilt University talking about serendipity in science medicine and space. Dr. Mohammed Al Majed, Director of the National Satellite technology Center at KACST, followed with an overview of the KACST satellite program and a review of the collection of high resolution images taken by KSA satellites.

After lunch, the delegates held a panel discussion on space operations and science with panelists James Reilly II, Thierry Duquesne, Richard Garriott de Cayeux, Christer Fuglesang, Michel Tognini and George Whitesides participating.

While the fliers were in session, the companions and spouses were hosted as guests of Kingdom Holdings at the Kingdom tower, one of the tallest buildings in Riyadh. This was followed by a visit to the Nova equestrian center and African Village, where they were treated to a guided tour of the park and its visitor areas, followed by refreshments, before heading back to the hotel.

Tuesday evening, the delegates explored some of Saudi Arabia’s great history with a trip to the King Abdualaziz Historical Center. There they visited the Kingdom’s National Museum, a state of the art facility with eight floors of well designed, engaging, informative and interactive displays on Arabia’s history, culture, and art. The guests had tea with the King’s daughter – HRH Princess Adeela bint Abdullah bin Abdualziz Al Saud, and then toured the former palace of Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdualaziz. A reception in the traditional adjacent mud houses was a fitting conclusion to the cultural evening.

Wednesday was the traditional Congress Community Day. Twenty groups of astronauts and cosmonauts travelled all over the Kingdom to talk about space exploration, science, engineering and mathematics. Visiting educational institutions in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam, they spoke to thousands of students ranging from kindergarten to university and college students.

After returning from Community Day activities, the fliers and their companions enjoyed an evening desert program. The delegates enjoyed the sunset from a Bedouin tent, rode camels, and observed falconry demonstrations. After sunset the guests concluded the day with dinner and an engaging evening of activities at the desert oasis.

On Thursday, the delegates began their day with regional caucuses and an internal executive session.  After the formal sessions, the delegates embarked on a site seeing tour, with stops at the Aviation Museum, the Old Diriyah – a recognized UN Heritage site – and the oasis of Wadi Hanifah. The group ended the tour with lunch at the impressive Al Tuwaiq palace in the Kingdom’s Diplomatic Quarter, hosted by the Riyadh Development Authority. At the palace, first time Congress attendees were recognized and awarded their ASE logo insignia by the ASE leadership.

Thursday night, fliers, companions and distinguished guests gathered in the Grand Ballroom of the Ritz Carlton for a gala reception and Closing Ceremony. The program opened with remarks by ASE president Dorin Prunariu and HRH Prince Sultan, host of the XXV Congress. Soichi Noguchi followed with a formal announcement of the formation of ASE-Asia.

The Executive Committee took the stage and awarded Leonov Medallions to Prince Sultan for his efforts in hosting the XXV Congress, and to George W. Abbey for his lifetime contributions to human space exploration. Rosemary Roosa, on behalf of the Moon Tree Foundation presented Prince Sultan with seeds from a Moon Tree, grown from seeds her father flew to the moon on Apollo 14. Recognized for the Best Technical Presentation, Randy Bresnik was awarded the Perchatka, a ceramic EVA glove designed and produced by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Usachev. In a fitting tribute to their contributions to ASE and to space exploration, Owen Garriott and Georgi Grechko were inducted as Distinguished Members of ASE. To conclude the Ceremony, Reinhold Ewald officially invited the delegates to the XXVI ASE planetary Congress, to be held in Cologne, Germany.

The Association would like to extend its gratitude to the Kingdom’s Government, KACST and SCTA for their exceptional efforts in organizing a most successful XXV ASE Planetary Congress and for the great hospitality extended to the ASE members and companions.

XXV Congress Poster