International Astronautical Congress Opens with Fanfare But Russia and China Have Visa Issues

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Heads of Agencies Panel

Delegates from around the world were treated to Canadiana during the opening ceremonies of the 65th International Astronautical Congress in Toronto. Highlights included a love story on ice, a cross country taste of Canadian music including fiddlers from Nova Scotia and First Nations from British Columbia and of course an appearance by former Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield who galvanized the world with his social media presence during his stay aboard the International Space Station.

The ceremonies were moderated by Canadian astronauts David Saint-Jacques and Jeremy Hansen who made an effective comedic tag team and kept the ceremony flowing, though it still ran long. Throughout the opening ceremony the Congress theme "Our World Needs Space" was explored why space is important to the everyday lives of people around the world.

While the ceremonies were ongoing exhibitors were putting the final touches to their booths as the exhibit hall opened shortly afterwards.

The first plenary of the Congress is the much anticipated yearly Heads of Agencies panel where the leaders of the leading space programs have an opportunity to bring the Congress up to date on their countries activities. Unfortunately, and embarrassingly, members of both the Chinese and Russian delegates had visa problems and were unable to make it.

It is not known who is at fault for this issue, but according the President of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Walter Natynczyk, during a press conference afterwards, the CSA was not informed of the issue until 48 hours before the start of the Congress. The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs handles these matters.

The Russian news agency Interfax said that most of the Russian delegation was barred from entry into Canada including famed cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev. If this is the case, it is yet another retaliation on Canada's part for Russia's role in the destabilization of Ukraine.

The congress is usually a venue where politics are out aside and colleagues from around the world gather to discuss the latest developments in space.

It's not clear why China had visa issues as Canada has just completed a new trade agreement with them. The agreement was seen as a first step in warming up relations between the two nations after a frosty few years.

At the Heads of Agencies delegates heard from representatives from Canada, the hosts, Mexico, a last minute addition, Japan, India, United States and the European Space Agency.

During the discussions the delegates were told that the European Space Agency (ESA) would be expanding to 22 nations with the forthcoming additions of Estonia and Hungary.

We also learned that Japan's next-generation launch vehicle will be ready by 2020 which it hopes will allow them to compete in the global commercial launch market.

Charles Bolden of NASA discussed NASA's achievements but also said his hardest task is getting sustained support from the administration and Congress.

One of the more interesting comments came from ESA Head Jean-Jacques Dordain who said "competition is no longer among countries, but among scientific communities" with lots of competition to use the International Space Station.

There was plenty of praise for India after the successful orbital insertion of their MOM orbiter last this week around Mars. India however is not resting on this recent achievement. K. Radhakrishnan, head of the Indian Space Research Organisation, said India is prepping the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mark III for launch within a couple of months that will carry a reentry capsule to test technology for a possible future crewed mission.

Mexico's Space Agency head Dr. Mendieta Jimenez spoke of his nations emerging program and movement towards collaboration with other nations. Mexico will host the Congress in 2016.

Lastly, Walter Natynczyk of Canada briefly mentioned some of Canada's highlights of the past year including the launch of the CASSIOPE satellite, Canada's ongoing commitment to the Space Station and touted the new Space Policy Framework. Natynczyk also mentioned it will be Canada's "extraordinary youth" who will allow Canada to compete globally.

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