I’ve been on a few hardship tours during my lifespan (and yes, I consider those to be “North Bay” and “Winnipeg”!), but I did not know what to expect when our esteemed President, Kevin Shortt (a.k.a. Shortt on Space), recently asked me to step in for him to attend the 60th Anniversary Celebration of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) that was held on 22 March. First of all, the fact that the event was to be held in Paris (that’s Paris, France and not Paris, Ontario, or perhaps Ohio) was a point of some consternation, as I literally needed to traverse four (4) countries to get there (The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and then France)! Fortunately for the Society, my wife’s ‘strategic’ move to Europe last summer meant that such an excursion was certainly within the realm of the possible.
That being said, I did have to get up early (but around my normal waking time) in order to catch the fast train from Aachen to Paris-Nord – I’m sure we have all experienced that irritating German efficiency - and my on-time departure and subsequent arrival in Paris was, well, irritating! Imagine, having to swiftly and conveniently travel through the various German, Belgian and French country-sides – and on a beautiful sunny spring day, too – how was I to get any real work done? Thanks Kev!
My anxiety would only grow as I discovered that I now had several hours to stroll through sunny Paris before arriving at the UNESCO headquarters at which the IAF function was to be held. Don’t worry, I certainly did my best to ignore the French Chocolaterie shops, the Tuileries Gardens, The Seine River – even the Eifel Tower obstructed my view a few times!
Upon arrival at the UNESCO building, my expectations were that I would enter, easily avoid other attendees (and especially Canadians) and sit through some boring briefings after which I would dutifully return to my hotel (again, while carefully ignoring all physical stimuli on the way!).
Alas, this was not to be the case, as no sooner had I showed up for processing, than did I meet my good friend from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Dr Alfred Ng as he literally arrived right behind me! Great, another Canadian! Could there be more? In fact, the event was attended by many Canucks such as Dr Robert Thirsk, Dr David Kendall, Dr Marilyn Steinberg, Dr Nicole Buckley, Dr Marcus Demjek, Karl Doetsch, and from MDA: Dr Chris Sallaberger, D. Craig Thornton, Dr Nadeem Ghafoor, and many, many others. I’m not sure why they all chose to come out to this celebration, since I am pretty sure we had things at home that could have been attended to, such as the releasing of the Federal Budget – priorities people!
Although I was steeling myself up to make a quick dash to the exit, and ASAP, my attention was then focused on several IAF briefings regarding the preparations for the International Astronautical Congresses (IACs) to be held in Cape Town, South Africa (2011), Naples, Italy (2012), and Beijing, China (2013)(note: obviously sensing my discomfort, the Chinese Delegation reported that they, in fact, did not have a report!). It was quite obvious that a significant amount of work had been accomplished for the 2011 IAC and that the 2012 IAC was progressing steadily. There were also several briefings on youth programs and grants, and on IAC reform in general.
Glancing at the clock, I noted that there was not much time before the actual 60th Anniversary event, and I was inwardly thankful to the event organizers for being largely on time (remember, I had forgot to keep my eye on that exit!). I was thus expecting a perfunctory organizational back-slap, followed by some cold cuts and, of course, the exit.
Instead, the 300+ attendees were treated to an amusing (I may have chuckled) skit that took both the IAF, and the space community, through the past 6 decades of goals, activities and accomplishments. Interspersed within the skit were musical pieces of classical piano (who doesn’t get irritated at classical piano?). Afterwards, the entire audience was invited to the 7th floor to imbibe on dozens of different kinds of hors d’oeuvres, various liquid refreshments, and more stimulating conversation.
So, I quickly got out of there an hour and a half later and returned to my hotel. Later, I realized that I had not really accomplished my mission as I totally neglected to offer:
Happy 60th Anniversary to the IAF, and many more on behalf of the Canadian Space Society!