By Michael Banks
The weather was dry as I arrived yesterday at the armadillo-shaped congress centre in Glasgow for the 59th International Astronautical Congress (IAC). But there was no need for delegates to ask what the weather forecast would be for the rest of the week. Even before I had had the chance to register, I had already picked up two conference freebies. They were both umbrellas.
The IAC is a huge global meeting at which the international space industry and national space agencies come together to show their wares and find out what everyone is up to. In the afternoon, just as the first rain clouds were opening up, the heads of national agencies came together for a briefing session. NASA boss Mike Griffin was joined on the panel by other space-agency chiefs such as ROSCOSMOS deputy head Alexander Medvedchikov from Russia, the Chinese National Space Administration’s boss Sun Laiyan, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency head Keji Tachikawa as well as Byrana Suresh, director of the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology.
Each gave a four-minute briefing of progress in their respective national programmes, before a question-and-answer session with delegates. Griffin went first, explaining that he expected that NASA would continue to use the $100bn International Space Station (ISS) even when the space-shuttle programme finishes in 2010. He also noted that Congress had voted to allow the US to buy places on board Russian Soyuz craft to fulfil their ongoing obligations to the ISS.
Co-operation appears to be this year’s buzzword at the annual space bash. Griffin indicated that the US would send astronauts to the moon by 2020 with “international co-operation”. But speaking through an interpreter, China’s Laiyan was more subdued on the co-operation front for future manned space missions to the Moon. The Chinese also expect to have “their own” orbiting space station by 2011, which will be the launch pad for a manned mission to Moon. “The Moon mission has priority to China,” says Laiyan.
Medvedchikov was much vaguer about Russia’s space programme, but when asked about co-operation noted that countries have their own ways of operating. He also expected no co-operation when it comes to defence-related areas of space, which may have been a remark aimed at the US’s plans to install a missile defense shield on Russia’s doorstep.
Conference organizers are pretty strict about whose questions get asked — delegates have to fill in a form first and state explicitly who the query is aimed at. I chose to ask Laiyan if he wanted China to beat the US in the race back to the Moon but, for some reason, my question remained unanswered. The organizers, sadly, opted instead for less controversial stuff from other delegates — like “How do you become a Canadian astronaut?” and “When will the first women be sent to Mars?” It was an opportunity missed.