Gong Jinyu is Deputy Secretary General of the Chinese Society of Astronautics, responsible for academic exchanges and popular science work. Gong holds a masters degree in engineering and scientific management from the Harbin Institute of Technology and has been with the CSA for eight years. For the past three months, she has been on assignment at the IAF Secretariat as part of China’s effort to prepare IAC 2013 in Beijing. We asked her how she viewed this experience.

What have you learned from your stay at the IAF?

The first thing that struck me is the global scope of the organisation. Everything about the IAF - the members, the committees, the secretariat - is thoroughly international. I am amazed at how effectively the federation uses its global reach, particularly through the IAC, to connect scientists, policy-makers and industry leaders from around the world. I was also impressed by the multidisciplinary nature of the IAF, and the effort the organisation is making to reinforce its ability to foster synergies between academia, the scientific community, government and industry. Another lasting impression was the professionalism and enthusiasm of the IAF secretariat and committees, and the straightforward bottom-up operational framework that enables the organisation to readily attract resources and volunteers. I especially admired the flexibility of the structure, which permits the ready introduction of new features like the cluster forum or the regional group concept, added in 2009. Together, these qualities have supplied a basis for the sustainable development of the IAF and enabled the IAC to grow steadily from year to year.

Will the IAF experience be useful when you return to China?

Definitely. For one thing, I hope to use this experience to help attract more high-level company officials and scientists to the IAF, and assist the CSA in coaching organisations and individuals on how to become members and join IAF committees. There are currently few Chinese scientists or engineers on IAF committees, and until last year, the CSA was the organisation’s only Chinese member. Since then, two academic institutions from China - Beihang University and Northwestern Polytechnical University - have joined the IAF and Li Ming of CAST has become the first Chinese IPC co-chair. More can be expected to follow in coming years as the importance of space in the Chinese economy and society continues to grow. I also plan to apply lessons learned from my stay at the IAF to organisation of IAC 2013 in Beijing.

What insights do you draw from the site visit to Naples in January?

The most striking thing to me was the way an unfamiliar language and culture can complicate communications and collaboration - a problem that will likely be even more apparent at IAC 2013. In such a context, it may be more difficult to match IAF specifications, say for the opening ceremony and gala dinner venues, to local needs or to meet specific host country requirements for promoting the local space industry, culture and so on without conflicting with IAF traditions. The task is compounded by the growing size of the IAC - more than 3,000 people now attend the annual event - as well as the need to accommodate a steadily increasing number of exhibits and VIPs and an expanding slate of activities.

How is IAC 2013 in Beijing proceeding?

Work on IAC 2013 has already started and the formal LOC kick-off meeting was to be held by the end of February. Planners intend to make ample use of lessons learned from the Global Lunar Conference held in Beijing in 2010 and IAC 2012 in Naples, as well as experience from my three-month stint at the IAF. The event is receiving high-level attention from the Chinese space community, and all the major space players, including CNSA, CASC and CASIC, will be represented on the LOC. In addition to myself, the president of CSA, Ma Xingrui, and the vice presidents, Yuan Jie and Yang Junhua, are all closely involved in preparing the event. As we say in Chinese, “half of success is a good start.” IAC 2013 is also benefiting from firm government support, and the high priority the government has attached to space development. The “ChinaSpace in 2011” white paper urges the Chinese space community to reinforce its participation in international conferences like the IAC. Moreover, a number of major upcoming space milestones are scheduled to take place around the time of the 2013 congress, including launch of China’s first lunar lander, entry into regular service of the Beidou satellite navigation system and the docking of the first manned crew to the Tiangong 1 orbital platform. Site selection has been narrowed down to two areas in the same section of Beijing - both with existing congress facilities - and a final decision will be made as soon as possible this year. The site will be located in a modern part of the city with good public transportation links and a plentiful supply of hotels, restaurants and other attractions.Plans are being laid for a technical tour of space facilities in the Beijing area, and perhaps to Shanghai as well. Cultural tours in Beijing and the historic city of Xian are also planned.

Can you describe your personal experience in Paris?

I found the staff at the IAF secretariat to be extremely dedicated as well as friendly, helpful and considerate. I couldn’t have asked for a better working environment.The fact that the secretariat is located in Paris - one of the most beautiful and international cities in the world - was an extra added plus! Some things about Paris particularly intrigued me. One was the annual January sale, when the metro is suddenly flooded with people toting huge shopping bags brimming with cut-price goods, seemingly oblivious of the economic crisis! Then there are the many cafés - without a doubt a key element of the city’s romantic allure - where customers can sit all day or night nursing a cup of coffee or a beer and chatting endlessly about everything and nothing. Paris is also a veritable paradise for dog owners like myself: people take their dogs everywhere - in the metro, shopping,even to the restaurant!

"I was impressed by the multidisciplinary nature of the IAF, and the effort the organisation is making to reinforce its ability to foster synergies between academia, the scientific community,government and industry."