Astronaut Conference Coming to Salt Lake City

Astronaut Conference Coming to Salt Lake City

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Vance Brand was part of space history 30 years ago, the commander of an Apollo crew that docked with a Soviet capsule in a rare moment of cooperation during the Cold War.

That was back when space landings were still splashdowns and the United States and former Soviet Union were fierce rivals. Political tensions and space travel have changed considerably since then, but Brand said studying what happens outside the Earth's atmosphere is every bit as relevant.

"I think there are people that probably feel that we've got all of the knowledge and technology that we'll ever need when it comes to space exploration," said Brand, who will take part in the Association of Space Explorers' Planetary Congress in Salt Lake City.

"I don't agree with that. I agree more with the young people and the older people that say that exploration is what we're all about."

The Association of Space Explorers, a nonprofit organization of international space explorers, promotes the benefits of space science and exploration. It also gives former astronauts and cosmonauts a chance to talk about their days in orbit. The opening ceremony is Monday and public events are scheduled through Thursday.

The 19th Planetary Congress is being hosted by former U.S. Sen. Jake Garn, who was a crew member on the Discovery shuttle in 1985. Garn, a native of Richfield, Utah, said the possibilities of space exploration are still inspiring.

"It's the excitement of the unknown," Garn said. "I still dream about it."

Part of the conference is trying to pique children's interest in space, now that traveling in orbit seems almost routine rather than novel idea it was 50 years ago.

Astronauts will visit school districts throughout the state on Wednesday, telling children from kindergarten through high school about topics like being weightless, the food they ate in space and -- the question Garn said he gets most often from the youngest students -- how they go to the bathroom.

But the astronauts have much more important facts to te ll the children.

Students today can't specifically prepare for the unimagined opportunities and technology of the future, but if they understand the value of education, they'll be ready, Garn said.

Utah's connection to space travel goes beyond Garn, who represented the state for three terms in the Senate. Utah State University in Logan is home to the Space Dynamics Laboratory, which brings in $60 million annually in grants and research funding.

Alpine School District has the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center, named for the late member of the 1986 Challenger crew, and the Ogden City School District runs the Astro Camp Center.

The red-rock terrain of southern Utah is home to the Mars Desert Research Station, which tries to simulate conditions on Mars.

The congress also marks the 30th anniversary of Brand's first space mission. Members of the crew on the Apollo flight and cosmonauts from the Soviet Soyuz capsule will be honored during the conference for the mission anniversary. The American capsule and Soviet spacecraft docked together for two days, uniting crews from the two superpowers that weren't exactly getting along down on Earth.

"Something that's hard to realize is that was back at a time when relations between East and West were pretty tense," Brand recalled. "It was sort of a breakthrough, opening a crack in the door between East and West."

Alexei Ulanov, the first man to walk in space 10 years before, was part of the Soyuz crew and will also be part of the conference this week. This is just the second time the conference has been held in the United States. Washington, D.C., hosted it in 1992.

There is still plenty to talk about.

"In the last 50 years or so, we've made tremendous progress, starting from almost zero and going to the capabilities we have today," Brand said.


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(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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