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American astronomers in Tehran

July 27, 2000 (Search for Common Ground) -- A delegation of American astronomers is in Iran taking part in an astronomy conference with other American scientists and their Iranian counterparts, as well as European and Asian participants. Among the participants are Dr. Alan Hale (co-discoverer of the Hale-Bopp Comet) and former astronaut Bruce McCandless (co-developer of the Manned Maneuvering Unit used by Space Shuttle astronauts during the 1980s and a deployer of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990), along with JPL and Goddard scientists.

This trip builds upon contacts that were made during the last Search for Common Ground-led trip to Iran in August 1999 to view the last total solar eclipse of the last millennium.

Despite the recent downturn in the turbulent relations between the U.S. and Iran in the wake of the recent verdicts against the Iranian Jews; the testing of the Shehab-3 missile; and the anti-Iran legislation being introduced in Congress; there is an untold story of a series of successful, ongoing people-to-people exchanges between Iranians and Americans. While the two governments posture and harangue each other, citizens of both countries are taking matters into their own hands and making their own (non-governmental) peace.

This astronomy exchange is only the most recent of a number of similar initiatives organized by Search for Common Ground, a Washington D.C. based nonprofit organization dedicated to international and domestic conflict resolution. Search for Common Ground has implemented several exchanges between Americans and Iranians, including a highly-publicized tour of Iran by an American wrestling team in February 1998 and the visit by Iranian environmentalists to the U.S. in October/November 1999.

The delegation will be in Iran through July 28. Hale and McCandless will be available for phone or in-person interviews at any time.

Some key participants:

Dr. Alan Hale - Astroomer; Co-discoverer of the Hale-Bopp Comet; Founder & Director of the Southwest Institute for Space Research (SWISR) in Cloudcroft, New Mexico; and participant on last year's Search for Common Ground-led trip to Esfahan to observe the last solar eclipse on August 11, 1999.

Bruce McCandless II - Former Apollo 14 astronaut who co-developed the Manned Maneuvering Unit used by Space Shuttle astronauts during the 1980s; heavily involved in the development of the Hubble Space Telescope and was a member of the crew that deployed it in 1990.

Douglas Biesecker - Astronomer, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Charles Morris - Aerospace Engineer, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)


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