In the largest such gathering in history to date, 53 astronauts and cosmonauts from eleven countries gathered in Groningen, The Netherlands, July 2-6, 1990, for the Sixth Annual ASE Planetary Congress hosted by ASE member Wubbo Ockels. As the cornerstone of ASE activity, the annual Congress serves as a forum where programs in all four ASE mission areas - education, environmental stewardship, international cooperation and the advancement of beneficial space exploration - are initiated, developed and evaluated. The Congress further facilitates communication between the space community, the government and the public. July's week-long session allowed ASE members to re-establish acquaintances, strengthen professional bonds, and issue a call to all spacefaring nations to cooperate in the use of space for the benefit of humankind.
On the opening day, Congress participants heard updates on the activities of several national space programs. Wubbo Ockels reported on recent Dutch efforts, Bruce McCandless reviewed the year's U.S. Shuttle missions, and Sergei Krikalev presented news of the Soviets' Mir station program. In a 15th anniversary retrospective of their historic meeting in space, Alexei Leonov and Tom Stafford shared their thoughts on the Apollo- Soyuz Test Project of 1975.
The Congress keynote address, "Space Without Frontiers", was delivered by the noted Dutch astronomer H.C. van de Hulst, the recipient of ASE's 1990 Planetary Award. Recognized for his pioneering work in bringing about international cooperation in space science research, van de Hulst suggested that when a system without frontiers, such as science, meets a system with frontiers, such as politics, as often occurs with Big Science projects like space, a dialogue between the political and scientific systems must take place in order to minimize the turbulence which could be encountered. His prescription ran consistent with ASE's own ongoing efforts to foster such dialogue.
Addressing the theme "Space Brings People Together", Sigmund Jähn and Reinhard Furrer followed with remarks on the benefits yielded by international cooperation in space exploration in the East and West, respectively. Laying out the potential benefits of future cooperation, Tom Stafford reviewed the work conducted by his Synthesis Group, a U.S. panel charged with developing Moon/Mars mission architecture proposals out of hundreds of ideas submitted to the nation's Space Exploration Initiative Outreach Program. Alexei Leonov concluded the session proposing the creation of an international institute whose goal would be to prepare today's toddlers for missions to Mars in twenty to thirty years.
Another Congress working session was devoted to universal space rescue and environmental protection, two ongoing ASE program areas. The session opened with a viewing of the ASE-sponsored film "Our Planet Earth", produced by filmmaker Mickey Lemle for the United Nations. Taylor Wang reported on ASE's participation in April's Earth Day ceremony at the U.N. and Vladimir Aksyonov, Vladimir Dzhanibekov and Vladimir Kovalyonok discussed Soviet initiatives in monitoring the environment from space. John-David Bartoe and Alexander Alexandrov concluded the session with a review of ASE space rescue activities since the Riyadh Congress, including the publication and distribution of the Proceedings of the Riyadh Congress Conference on Space Rescue.
Two additional working sessions were held in collaboration with the 28th international meeting of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR). At the first, a public session addressing the challenges of a manned Mars mission, six ASE members spoke to an audience of 300 about several issues that would arise in the face of such an unprecedented and monumental undertaking. The second session consisted of a joint scientific session with COSPAR on human performance in space. The seminar was the first time leading international scientists joined with astronauts to exchange detailed results of their research, and served as a major milestone in ASE's advocacy of making space travel safe for the explorer.
At the close of the Congress the participants approved a Congress Statement on the theme "Space Brings People Together" that voiced their common understanding of the role space plays in contributing to humanity's sense of kinship, interdependence and planetary stewardship through space-based communication, space exploration and Earth observation. The statement called upon the world's spacefaring nations to increase the level of international cooperation in space, both in low Earth orbit and in the exploration of the moon and planets.
The 6th Congress provided an opportunity for informal interaction among ASE members and between members and municipal, provincial and national government leaders and the general public. Congress community activities included participation in the opening of the Noordwijk Space Exposition and a visit to several departments at Groningen University. In addition to their program work, the members elected Jon McBride, Oleg Makarov and Wubbo Ockels to join John Fabian, Alexei Leonov, Ernst Messerschmid and Bertalan Farkas on the international executive committee. The membership also accepted an offer from Sigmund Jähn and Reinhard Furrer to host the 7th ASE Congress in Berlin in 1991 and welcomed an ASE-USA initiative to host the 8th Congress in Washington DC in 1992, International Space Year.