Last updated: August 15, 1999
August 15, 1999

Greetings from Cambridge, England! Most of the group has returned home to the U.S., but Doug and I are here in Cambridge attending the Second International Workshop on Cometary Astronomy. Presumably it will be a little easier to access the internet from here in the U.K. than it was it Iran, so I should be able to get this uploaded without too much trouble; in any event, however, this will almost certainly be my last travel update that I'll post.

Yesterday was our travel day out of Iran. Up at 6:30 AM, one final breakfast in the country, and then off to the airport. The customs and departure procedure was uneventful (fortunately), and our flight took off as scheduled at 11:30. It was nice to return to some of our more normal ways of life; the women in the group shed their scarves shortly after take-off, and I changed into shorts and drank that long-awaited diet coke at the airport in Dubai. Our adventure, then, is essentially over, but I think all of us were deeply touched by our experiences in Iran and by the lives of those we encountered.

To everyone who has taken the time to read these updates, thanks, and although it was entirely beyond by control, I again apologize for not uploading these more regularly. (If you've been a regular reader, note that this is my first uploading since August 10, so there are several more updates below you haven't read yet.) I hope that through these updates you have managed to get a glimpse of what life is like for our fellow human beings in Iran, and that this will help our respective peoples, and perhaps all of humanity, start to understand each other a little bit better.

Til later,



August 13, 1999

This is the last update I will write from Iran. But because I have no way to upload this now -- indeed, I have not been able to access the internet since I uploaded the update for August 10 -- no one else will see this until after we have left the country.

Our activities since eclipse day: on August 12 it was up at 4:00 AM, and then on our way southward. A few hours later we stopped at the ruins at Pasargadae and visited the tomb of Cyrus the Great. Then, after lunch, we stopped and visited the magnificent ruins of the ancient city of Persepolis, and spent approximately two hours there. After that it was on to Shiraz, where we caught a late-evening flight to Tehran, and then spent the night at the same hotel where we spent our first night in Iran.

Today, we slept in a bit, but spent the afternoon visiting the National Iranian Museum here in Tehran. We're back in the hotel now, and just a couple of hours ago we had our last meal together as a complete group (some of the members are leaving a few hours before the rest of us). For me and rest of the group, tonight is our last night in Iran; tomorrow morning we're off to Dubai, then to London, and then on with the rest of our lives.

It has certainly been an interesting trip, and I think every one of us has been touched rather deeply. We have received a lot of friendliness and good will from the Iranian people, and I believe it is the wish of every one in the group that the good will we experienced can be translated into better understanding and tolerance between our respective peoples during the years to come. Hopefully, maybe, just possibly, our visit here has made a difference.

And to top everything off, we got to enjoy a nice eclipse . . .



August 11, 1999

It was a gorgeous eclipse! The day started perfectly clear, and although there was a bit of cumulus build-up during the hours after noon, this was inconsequential, and the eclipse took place in a sky that was for all intents and purposes completely clear.

It was a bright eclipse, i.e., the sky never got darker than bright twilight. I didn't detect any comets, and in fact I couldn't detect any objects other than Venus (which was apparent to the naked eye ten minutes before totality). I knew that detecting any comets was a long shot, of course, and although the SOHO spacecraft detected a comet near the sun a couple of days ago, that object would have long since disintegrated. Meanwhile, the sun's corona was very detailed and structured, and there were an incredible number of prominences scattered all around the sun's limb.

But it was a short eclipse! Totality lasted less than two minutes, and after the fact it seems much shorter than that. There's already talk among the group of meeting up in Africa for the eclipse in June 2001 . . .

As far as I' m concerned, today's eclipse was the icing on what has been a very successful trip. We came here not only to view the eclipse, but to have people-to-people interactions with the citizens of Iran, and that we did. Let me share the following three incidents that have all happened within the past 24 hours:

Yesterday evening I was talking with Ali Parsa (from the Zirakzadeh Foundation) in the huge, sprawling, congested bazaar in downtown Esfahan (which has been described as the "mother of all bazaars"). An Iranian family walking by recognized me -- don't ask me how -- and the father asked me the following: "Do the American people know that the people of Iran like Americans?"

Later that night we were eating at a restaurant in Esfahan -- real, honest-to-goodness hamburgers and pizza! -- and I was walking by a table around which were seated a group of young men who seemed to be in their late teen or early 20s. One of the young men stopped me and said "After 20 years it's great to have Americans back in Iran again!"

And finally at lunch today an Iranian man told me "I want you to know that I like Americans; the Iranian people like Americans . . . very much."

As I've indicated in my earlier updates, the Iranians' reception toward us has been extremely warm and friendly, and many of them have gone out of their way to be as accomodating to us as they can. All of us have felt very welcome here, and our experiences suggest that the attitudes expressed by the three people I quoted above are indicative of the attitudes throughout Iran. So America, are you listening?



August 10, 1999

Hallelujah! (I think). After several days where I've been unable to obtain any internet access, it looks like today I'm finally going to be able to upload all our updates from the past few days. We're in Esfahan, and although the conference at the University where we were supposed to speak was postponed, it turns out that our friend Ali Parsa (from the Zirakzadeh Foundation) has a friend here in Esfahan who has internet access at his office . . .

Before I go any further, a couple of bookkeeping items. It's been called to my attention that the links on this web site do not fill in the entire screen when clicked upon. This is my fault, and mostly has to do with the fact that I'm still a bit new to web programming. Unfortunately, all my manuals and help are back in the U.S. . . . So, I have no choice but to leave things as they are for now, and I apologize to the organizations involved.

With this in mind, I should again thank my sponsors. Celestial products, at, is one of these, as is Rainbow Symphony, at, who supplied 500 pairs of eclipses glasses for distribution to the Iranian citizens. I should also mention Meade Instruments Corporation, who had promised to supply a telescope and CCD system for this expedition, but because of the vagaries of the delivery systems in my part of the world the equipment didn't arrive on time. I should also thank an anonymous donor who supplied a significant amount of the funding for this trip.

Two more organizations which deserve an enormous amount of the credit for making this trip happen are Search for Common Ground in Washington, D.C., who facilitated our contacts with the Iranians, and who did a lot of the legwork in the handling the arrangements; and the Zirakzadeh Science Foundation in Tehran, who was our main contact in Iran and who handled all the enormous details on that end. I should also mention Space Adventures in Arlington, Virginia, who helped in making our travel arrangements.

One more bookkeeping item: unless otherwise specified, the images displayed on our images page were taken by Doug Biesecker. Media organizations who wish to "lift" one or more of these images are more than invited to do so, but please give Doug credit.

OK, now that that's out of the way . . . I'm sad to report that we will not have any near-real time updates from the eclipse itself on this web page. Although our accomodations in Chadegan are quite nice, one thing they do not have is any kind of Internet access. (Even phone access is a rather iffy proposition.) So, we'll enjoy the eclipse (hopefully), and you all will get to read about it here perhaps a couple of days later. My apologies, but there's not much I can do about it.

Our weather, by the way, seems to have improved since yesterday. There are a few scattered clouds around, but for the most part it's clear blue sky outside. Now, if it can only stay that way until, oh, say, 4:35 PM tomorrow afternoon . . .


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.



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 battery 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 got to do another round of autographs. Oh, the life of a real rock star.



August 8, 1999

Another day goes by without my being able to upload these updates. There is a chance I may be able to do so tomorrow night, and almost certainly at least once before the eclipse itself.

Like yesterday, today was mostly a travel day. We left Kermanshah this morning, bound for Khorramabad, with a stop enroute at some mountain carvings dating back some 1500 years. Although these were impressive, I couldn't help thinking about all the slaves forced to spend their lives working on these carvings, which were little more than works of vanity ordered by the kings involved. Along the way we stopped and had lunch, and actually got to have some pizza. Well, maybe "pizza" isn't exactly the right word, but it was a nice change of pace from the usual fare, which is normally a choice between lamb kabob, chicken kabob, beef kabob, or chelo kabob (a combination of lamb and beef). These are OK, but a bit tiring after the fourth, fifth, sixth, etc. time . . .

After arriving in Khorramabad we gave presentations at an astronomy symposium at Lorestan University. Just like in Zanjan, we were absolutely mobbed afterward, and not just those of us who spoke, but just about everybody on the delegation. It would not be a major stretch to say that we're being treated the way rock stars or major sports figures are treated in the U.S. The overall warmth of the Iranians' response toward us continues to be truly overwhelming.


August 7, 1999

Not an awful lot to report today, which is just as well since I probably won't get this uploaded until tomorrow. Today was essentially a travel day, as we rode the bus from Hamadan to Kermanshah, where we're spending the night. We made several sightseeing stops along the way, including at an archaelogical dig at the site of Cyrus the Great's summer capital, and at a couple of sites where the Medean kings Darius and Xerxes decided to have large monuments and inscriptions made to their greatness. (I guess modesty was not among their characteristics.) The place where we stopped to eat lunch offered us appetizers of onions and hot peppers (not radically different from the fare we've encounted elsewhere in Iran); somehow the song "Kiss Me" by Sixpence None the Richer comes to mind . . .



August 6, 1999

By now anyone who has checked this page on a regular basis has come to the conclusion that we are not able to update it as often as we'd like. The fact is is that our ability to establish and maintain internet connections has been rather "iffy." I'll try to upload the updates and images files when I can, and hopefully when we're around Esfahan we'll be able to maintain better and more frequent connections.

Today was essentially a sightseeing day. The highlight was a trip to Ali-Sadr Cave, about an hour's drive from Hamadan. This is a natural cave, somewhat similar to the caves in the U.S. (such as Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico), with all the regular cave formations (i.e., stalactites, stalagmites, etc.). The biggest difference between Ali-Sadr Cave and Carlsbad Caverns is that most of the trip through Ali-Sadr is via boat, i.e., it's primarily a water cave. There are a variety of colorful and spectacular formations, both on the "boat" part and on the "walking" part of the tour.

We spent the rest of the day traveling to various sites around Hamadan, including a couple of spots where we were able to make our contributions to the Iranian economy. One thing that was pretty common almost anywhere we went was the friendliness of the Iranian people, which became even more pronounced when they found out we were Americans. Seems like they somehow missed the message that we're supposed to be enemies; hmmm, maybe it's because we're not?



August 5, 1999

I had heard, both from people I have spoken to who have been to Iran during the recent past, as well as from written accounts, that the Iranians' response toward Americans is very warm. Today we had a chance to check that out, when Doug, Rock, Rusty and I made brief scientific presentations to a group of students at the Institute for Advanced Studies of Basic Sciences at Zanjan (a recently formed graduate-level university). The rest of the delegation attended as spectators. The response of the Iranian students toward us was incredibly warm and friendly, and in fact we were all but mobbed with their questions about science, about American life, and just about everything. It was also quite clear to me that the students were intelligent, well educated, and industrious. I was of course presented with several photographs of Comet Hale-Bopp, and in fact one of the students showed me his own (accurate) calculations of Hale-Bopp's orbit.

After eating lunch at the university we all hopped on our bus for the ride to Hamadan, where we are spending this evening. The trip took us through some rugged and beautiful scenery, up through a range of rugged mountains and onto the plateau where Hamadan sits. The overall countryside is quite desert-like, with scattered mountain ranges all over, and the climate is warm (although not especially hot) and dry. The region is actually quite similar to my home state of New Mexico. Many of the houses in the villages we passed were made of adobe-style bricks, quite similar to those pioneered by the native Americans in the desert southwest.

We are certainly being well fed on the trip. Kabobs, especially chicken kabobs, seem to be almost everywhere, as do rice dishes and fresh vegetables. I haven't been able to get my normal fill of Diet Coke, but the Iranians have a soft drink called Zam Zam which has been a reasonable substitute.

Internet connections continue to be a bit problematical, but I'm hopeful I'll be able to get this update loaded tonight. It looks like I might be able to get a decent night's sleep tonight after that . . .



Wow, what a morning!

Greg and I went running. We left the hotel and turned left and just ran along without making any turns for 14 minutes. There were lots of traffic circles to contend with. We turned around to get back to the hotel by retracing our route. At 30 minutes I was wiped out as Greg is in much better shape than I am. We intended to walk the rest of the way, and we just walked and waked, wondering where the hotel was. We were certain we were on the correct street, although there was always a chance we took the wrong turn at one of the traffic circles. After 15 minutes, we turned around to retrace our steps. Proceeding at a light jog, we pondered where we'd gone wrong, when lo and behold, we ran into Rock and Carolyn. It turns out we had run past the hotel without realizing it.

We went to the Institute for Advanced Studies of Basic Sciences to give some short seminars. What a fantastic time. The institute is for graduate students in math and physics and has only existed for about six years. The student body of about 70-80 was predominately male. Many were away on their summer holiday. However, there was a contingent of high school students and a contingent of women from a local school for talented and gifted women. The audience totaled about 75 people.

After the talks, we were mobbed. The students wanted to ask so many questions, and take loads of pictures, and get autographs. I'm not sure how long this went on, but I'd guess about one hour. Stephanie was immediately mobbed by many of the women in the audience. Of course, Rusty got most of the attention, but believe me, every speaker, and many of the other members of our group were in great demand. Flash bulbs were going off continuously. If we get a reception like this everywhere we go, I might start to feel like a rock star. Well, maybe not.

The students wanted to talk about science, about the U.S., about politics, about anything and everything. Apparently, many of the students don't understand why U.S.-Iran relations are so poor. Of course, neither do I really. Yes, the images of 20 years ago are still fresh in my mind, but I know that the people of the two countries could get along. I certainly feel like more that a drop in a bucket, which is what I mentioned earlier, about the impact we might have on our trip here. We reached out today and affected dozens of lives. And of course, they will in turn talk to their friends and families about the day they had with the Americans. And they will talk about it in the most positive of ways.



August 4, 1999 (late evening)

Finding a good internet connection has been a rather "interesting" process. I was unable to connect from my hotel room in Tehran, and consequently I haven't been able to post all the below updates. After visiting the Iranian carpet museum in Tehran and having lunch with the Swiss Ambassador, we are now in Zanjan and the host of our tour, Ali Parsa from the Zirakzadeh Science Foundation, tells me that we can make a connection from the hotel lobby. So, I'm about off to give it a try . . .

Tomorrow morning we're scheduled to participate in a scientific panel discussion at Zanjan University. Supposedly the University has good internet connections, and if so I should be able to post some more updates and images at that time.



August 4, 1999

Greetings from Iran!

We wrote the below updates for August 3 from the international airport in Dubai while we were waiting for our flight for Tehran. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any place at the airport to access the web and upload the files. So, we had to wait until we were in Tehran . . . and here we are.

Everything so far is going very well. We were greeted very warmly, and taken to our (excellent) hotel; we had a good dinner last night (and the food was quite good). Then, off to bed, to try to recover from jet lag. I must have done so, for I was waking up, refreshed, by 6:30 this morning. We've got a full day ahead of us, and for the next update I'll try to include additional comments from other delegation members. Meanwhile, Doug has been taking pictures with his new camera, and I'll try to put a couple of those on the photographs page. 'Til later . . .



August 3, 1999

Most of the group, with the exception of the Millers and the Schweickarts, met up yesterday in London. (They will join us in Tehran). We made the flight from London to Dubai this morning, and in a few hours we will catch our flight to Tehran. Our adventure will then really begin in earnest . . .

It's time for me to stop writing everything, and let a few of the other folks in the delegation have their say about how things are going. So, without further ado . . .



Sitting here in the departure lounge of Dubai International Airport waiting for our connecting flight to Tehran, I am marveling at the rainbow of people and costumes passing before us. From the all white long robe with white scarves held by black "rope" circling the heads of the local Emirates men to many colors of loose below knee length shirts and loose pants in lavender, or sea green or light blue, the men's clothing is a contrast to the predominantly black, long flowing costume of the women. But even the women are different, from the full length chador which falls from the head to the floor, to black scarves covering all her hair, to the veil showing only the eyes to a black veil covering the entire head, front and back. In this part of the world, not all the beauty is in the skies.

--Alice Buck


We're passing the time by trying out our electronic gadgets. We've been sitting here for 3 hours and still another 6 before we fly to Tehran. I've been showing off the SOHO data. I have images and movies of the various comets as well as movies of solar coronal mass ejections. These are things I plan to show in the presentations I will be giving throughout the trip. Mostly, we're just passing time, getting to know each other better, and sampling the `local' cuisine. In my case, I bought a bag of Cadbury's milk chocolate bars for the group. I bought an egg salad sandwich for myself. It is definitely the most interesting egg salad I've ever had. It was warmed up in a microwave and there are many things I can't identify on it as well.

--Doug Biesecker


Some final thoughts today from Alan: it is no secret, of course, that relations between Iran and the U.S have not exactly been cordial for the past twenty years, and several people have questioned my sanity for attempting this trip. (Other members of the delegation have shared similar statements from some of their friends and acquaintances.) My discussions with people who have been to Iran during the recent past, and my contacts with the folks at the Zirakzadeh Science Foundation suggest, however, that we'll be very welcome within Iran. I guess we'll find out within a few hours . . .

Along these lines, I'd like to share something that happened during the 7-hour flight from London to Dubai this morning. I was sharing a row with a 6-year-old girl from Karachi, Pakistan, named Amn Khan, whose mother and sister were sitting behind me. Despite the fact that I'm a strange man from a strange country, Amn trusted me and had no difficulty falling asleep while resting her head against my shoulder. While watching her sleep I couldn't help thinking of my own two sons, back in the U.S. If this trip can do anything to create better trust between the peoples of our planet, and in so doing make the world a better and safer place for Amn, and for Zachary and Tyler, and for all the children of the world who are our future, then it will have been worth every second of the effort that all of us involved in this trip have invested in trying to bring it to pass.


August 1, 1999

The last 24 hours have been very interesting. We finally got our passports, with our visas approved, only to be told that, due to the recent student unrest in Iran, it may not be safe for us to go. Last night we were told that the situation was being worked on, but at the very least our departure might be delayed a few days. So, I got a relaxing night's sleep last night . . . Only to be woken up at 6:30 this morning by a phone call from Stacy Heen at Search for Common Ground: the situation is taken care of, and to go board our flights. So, here I am at the airport at El Paso, getting ready to board my flight (it takes off in a little over half an hour). It looks like our adventure is ready to begin . . .

Last night, I watched a video of what is probably my all-time favorite movie, Dead Poets Society. As Mr. Keating (Robin Williams) says in the movie, "Carpe Diem!" -- Seize the Day!

-- Alan


July 28, 1999

Our visas are approved! We get underway on Sunday, August 1. Stay tuned for further updates.

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