HOUSTON — The largest gathering of space explorers in the world will land in Houston in 2019, honoring the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing.
The Association of Space Explorers (ASE) announced on Wednesday (July 20) that it has selected Houston as the host city for its 32nd Planetary Congress. The world's only professional association for the men and women who have orbited the Earth and gone beyond, the ASE expects more than 100 astronauts and cosmonauts to travel to Texas for the week-long conference.
"The Association of Space Explorers is proud to announce in commemoration of the first lunar landing that happened 47 years ago today, and for the first time in 11 years, that the 32nd Planetary Congress will be held in the U.S., right here in the city of Houston, in October 2019," said former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, president of ASE-USA, at a press conference held at Houston's City Hall on Wednesday. [Giant Leaps: Biggest Milestones of Human Spaceflight]
Since its founding in 1985, the ASE's Planetary Congress has been hosted in the U.S. only three times. In 1992, the eighth conference was held in Washington, D.C. under the theme, "To Mars Together." Thirteen years later, in 2005, the 19th Congress, "Our Destiny in Space: Worlds Without Borders," took place in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Most recently, Seattle, Washington played host to the 21st Planetary Congress, "Exploring Space, Inspiring Planetary Stewardship," in 2008. This year's conference, set for Oct. 3-7 in Vienna, Austria, has the theme "Born to Explore."
"The way these conferences work, they are bid out to the world," Mike Waterman, president of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, said. "First North America had to win against the whole world."
"It was [then] dwindled down to us and Washington, D.C., and Houston won," he said.
"The world's 'Space City,' [Houston is] the perfect selection for this prestigious Congress," said Mayor Sylvester Turner in a statement. "The first word uttered from the surface of the moon was 'Houston.'"
"As the home to NASA's Mission Control and the astronaut corps, Houston has been at the epicenter of every manned space exploration mission for more than five decades," said Turner. "To be selected to host this event, in the same year we celebrate the golden anniversary of Apollo 11, is remarkable. What an honor it'll be to welcome these space explorers from around the globe in the city where it all began."
Beyond its space ties, the selection of Houston as the host city made sense on several levels, said Lopez-Alegria.
"Texas has the second largest population in the U.S.," said Lopez-Alegria, "[and] Houston is the nation's fourth largest city with a diverse population of 2.24 million and reaches the second largest K-12 student population in America."
Unlike other professional association annual meetings, the ASE's Planetary Congress is open to the public and free to attend.
"We open our technical meetings to the public, universities and students," said Bonnie Dunbar, a former astronaut and ASE's organizer for the 2019 Planetary Congress. "We will be sending fliers across the state, and even to a couple of locations outside the state, to very large meetings, to very large groups and community groups, as well as to schools. We will be visiting primary schools and middle schools and high schools."
The Planetary Congress' opening and closing ceremonies will be hosted by Space Center Houston, the visitor center for NASA's Johnson Space Center. The ASE is planning to hold the conference's five technical sessions at Johnson, the Baker Institute of Public Policy at Rice University, the University of Houston at Clear Lake, University of Houston central campus and at the Lunar Planetary Institute.
Activities supporting the Congress will begin this fall with a three-year STEM education outreach initiative designed to engage local students and educators in learning about the challenges, opportunities and benefits of space exploration leading up to the conference.
ASE is represented by more than 400 space fliers from 37 different countries, with more than half of its members from the U.S. chapter. In addition to Lopez-Alegria and Dunbar, astronauts Bill McArthur and Mike Foreman were present for Wednesday's announcement at City Hall.
The 30th Planetary Congress will be held Oct. 16-20, 2017 in Toulouse, France. The host city for the 31st Congress in 2018 has yet to be announced.