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NASA Opens Doors to Ambassadors
The gateway to space turned into the gateway to America for ambassadors from 45 nations who visited NASA's Kennedy Space Center Jan. 31 during the first stop of a tour series that is expected to show off the unique features of the United States.

Ambassadors tour the Space Station Processing Facility Image right: A group of diplomats takes in the enormity of the International Space Station effort during a tour of the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Ambassadors from 45 nations visited the space center in one of the largest tours the American diplomatic corps has ever undertaken. Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Dozens of diplomats from nations across all continents except Antarctica watched as technicians readied the Japanese "Kibo" laboratory for launch to the International Space Station. They also saw NASA and contractor employees, received an up-close look at space shuttle Discovery in its hangar and reviewed Atlantis on Launch Pad 39A as technicians prepared the shuttle for its upcoming mission to the space station.

"The research and the science that is available here is incredible," said Gilles Noghes, ambassador of Monaco.

The diplomatic corps in Washington is one of the largest in the world, with embassies, missions and consulates from all over the planet. Asked what they'd like to see in America, the community backed tours of space and science centers. Kennedy was a natural starting point, said Ambassador Nancy Brinker, the U.S. chief of protocol.

"The trip is a chance to engage people personally and experience our country," she said. "After all, America is not just Washington."

The State Department says the visit to Kennedy was one of the largest tours ever undertaken by the diplomatic corps.

Dazzled by the space hardware and the scope of NASA's technological reach, the dignitaries said they were equally impressed by the international commitment of the space station.

"Collaboration in such technology projects bodes well for mankind," said Ambassador Mark Micele of Malta.

The Space Station Processing Facility, filled with hardware from Europe, Japan and Canada, along with NASA's own station segments, was a highlight of the day at Kennedy, Noghes said.

"How different teams of the world can work together is very comforting, very encouraging," he said.

NASA's Kelvin Manning, who is leading develop of NASA’s new Orion spacecraft for the Constellation project at Kennedy, helped brief the ambassadors.

"I think people are mostly taken aback by the enormity of it all," he said. "The hardware speaks for itself." And at least one of the diplomats wasn't content to just see the spacecraft pieces heading into orbit - Papua New Guinea’s Ambassador, Evan Paki, said he wanted to make a trip to Mars himself.

Steven Siceloff
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center