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Palestinian, Israeli fly tests on shuttle

By Richard Stenger

Yuval Landau, left, and Tariq Adwan at the Kennedy Space Center
Yuval Landau, left, and Tariq Adwan at the Kennedy Space Center

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(CNN) -- In an unlikely scientific partnership that crosses political barriers, Palestinian and Israeli researchers have joined forces to organize a science project onboard the space shuttle Columbia.

The science project, which includes Palestinian biology student Tariq Adwan and Israeli medical student Yuval Landau, could help determine whether the cosmos is seeded with primordial life forms.

The so-called astrobiology experiment is flying on the shuttle, which rocketed into orbit Thursday with the first Israeli in space for 16 days of marathon scientific research in virtually weightless conditions.

"The shuttle launch was breathtaking," said Adwan, a Palestinian from the West Bank city of Bethlehem. "When I saw it go up, I was thinking about the experiment and felt like part of me was going up with it.

"Sure, I would like to go into space some day," mused Adwan, who is studying at College Misericordia in Dallas, Pennsylvania.

Landau said he would prefer to stay Earth-bound to concentrate on his medical career.

Landau, who attends Tel Aviv University in Israel, said he would like to contribute somehow to astrobiology, a fast-growing field that investigates the prospects of life on planets other than Earth.

The pair is working with Dr. Eran Schenker of the Israeli Aerospace Medical Institute, who organized a series of shuttle experiments to study the effects of space on cells and DNA.

The findings could offer insight into whether microbes could travel between planets, bolstering a theory known as panspermia, which holds that Earth was seeded with life from the cosmos.

Others involved in the project include David Warmflash, a NASA scientist at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

"The experiment is ... a demonstration to show how people, united by a common goal, can work together to answer questions that have intrigued humanity for the ages," Warmflash said.

Adwan and Landau said they agreed. While acknowledging that relations between Palestinians and Israelis have been strained, the two said that they were able to put aside their differences, work together and become friends along the way.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, vice president of the Planetary Society, which sponsored the project, said he was not surprised.

"The language of the universe is science and math," said Tyson, a champion of science as a method to break down barriers between peoples.

"Political or social divisions exaggerate our differences, but they are really infinitesimal. If we are going to move beyond Earth, we are going to have to work together."

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