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Oh, the life of a rock star

Travel notes by two members of the American scientific delegation which has traveled to Iran to witness the last solar eclipse of the 20th century (August 11, 1999) . Doug Biesecker is an astronomer at the SM&A Corporation at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Delegation leader Alan Hale is best known as being one of the co-discoverers of Comet Hale-Bopp. He is the director of the Southwest Institute for Space Research in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Doug Biesecker writes:

August 9, 1999

Iran and the Iranian people continue to amaze me. We are getting a wonderful reception everywhere we go.

Last night, Sunday, we arrived in Khorramabad at 4:55 P.M. A delegation from the University of Lorestan was at the hotel waiting for us to get us to the University to give lectures at 5:00 P.M. We didn't even know that we were supposed to speak last night. We get to the University and the lecture hall is packed. Rusty estimates in excess of 500 people were in the hall. We started setting up immediately; computers, projector, video player. Well, we had to wait for the extension cord.

In the hall the women, all in black, are on the right and the men are on the left. Then our party sat in the front two rows and mixed it all up. The evening began with much Farsi being spoken, so I'm not sure I got this correct, but I believe there was a general welcome, a prayer, and then a specific introduction of our group.

The extension cord finally arrived, just as I was called up to speak. Well, it would have gone fine except that with the adapters in the plugs, the plugs just didn't want to stay in the extension cord. I ended up with a projector which turned off at random times because the plug would fall out and running my computer on batter power.

Unfortunately, I started with a very low battery. Thus, I had to cut short the portion of my talk with images and movies as the computer gave out on me after just a few movies and images. The level of English spoken was much less than at the Institute in Zanjan and a translator, Ali Parsa, was used. I don't think I've ever given a more difficult talk; equipment trouble, a translator, and over 500 people.

I personally think it was a disaster, but I think the audience liked it. I've been told that despite all the technical glitches I was having, I was positively beaming the whole time I was on stage. I know I was having fun. It's incredible, standing on a stage in a small town in Iran, with a crowd overflowing. I still can't believe this is happening.

We are continuing to touch so many people. Alan went next and I stayed back stage to help out with the equipment. Back stage, the students kept trying to get me to sit down. I think I was making them uncomfortable standing up. Then there was an intermission, which lasted I don't know how long. I went outside to get a breath of fresh air and was immediately mobbed by students wanting autographs and pictures. But again, they took great care to be polite and to make sure that I got a drink of apple juice.

At the end of the evening, the speakers were presented with very beautiful blankets. Then it was another mob of autograph seekers and picture takers. Oh, the life of a rock star.

This morning, Monday, we were getting on the bus to leave the hotel when a group of Iranians came up to the bus. They must have heard there was an astronaut on board and came up asking if Neil Armstrong was on the bus. So, Rusty [Russell Schweickart, lunar module pilot for the Apollo 9 mission in March 1969] got to do another round of autographs. Oh, the life of a real rock star.

Alan Hale writes:

August 9, 1999

I am writing this update from a "resort" village near the town of Chadegan, which is approximately 180 kilometers from Esfahan. This is our planned viewing site for the eclipse; however, our weather -- rather surprisingly, and in sharp contradiction to the 96% probability of clear skies that has been widely published -- has been quite cloudy for the past few days.

It's possible, then, that on eclipse day we may be hopping on the bus and going elsewhere. Time will tell; but for whatever it's worth, my experience has usually been that it's overcast on the day before an eclipse, but somehow manages to clear up on eclipse day itself.

Much to our chagrin, there are no Internet connections available here at Chadegan. We're supposed to be at the university in Esfahan tomorrow, and there should be some good connections available there; if so, maybe I can finally get all these updates uploaded.

Today was mostly another travel day, as we rode the bus from Khorramabad to Chadegan. Before leaving Khorramabad we visited an old castle within the city. I understand that during the Shah's regime this was a prison for political prisoners, and was "a house of torture and death" from which few prisoners ever returned; now, however, it's been made into an archaeological museum, and has a number of artifacts, some of which date back over 2500 years.

Our welcome here at Chadegan has been in keeping with the reception we have received elsewhere in Iran. Prior to dinner we were treated to a traditional dance from one of the native tribes, and some of us even attempted to smoke the traditional "water pipe." Dinner was back to the normal fare, however (i.e., lamb kabobs, chicken kabobs, etc.).

Anyway, I hope that tomorrow I can get all this uploaded and that I'm writing this for eyes other than my own.


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