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Japan Moves Ahead of Soviets in Young Astronaut Exchange

August 20, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Two bright American teenagers who entered a nationwide competition for a trip to Star City, U.S.S.R., leave instead Wednesday for Tsukuba, Japan, accompanied by a U.S. space shuttle pilot.

Japan is displacing the Soviet Union as the first country to exchange young astronauts with the United States. But the painstakingly-negotiated exchange of U.S. Young Astronauts and Soviet Young Cosmonauts is still on schedule, officials said Tuesday.

Ten other finalists of the nationwide U.S. competition for the Soviet trip will leave in mid-October expecting to tour the cosmodrome at Star City and meet young Russians sharing their interest in space, said T. Wendell Butler, executive director of the Young Astronaut Council. Later exchanges are planned with West Germany and Canada, he said.

The U.S.-Soviet youth exchange was agreed to in principle by President Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev at their 1985 Geneva summit meeting, Butler and syndicated columnist Jack Anderson told a sendoff at the Japanese Embassy for the youngters. Anderson is founder and chairman of the Young Astronaut Council, of which Reagan is honorary chairman.

Council spokeswoman Edith Westermann said the two American teenagers were among 35 finalists who had produced outstanding ″letters to a Soviet cosmonaut″ essays for the Soviet trip.

But Yomiuri Shimbun, a leading Japanese daily newspaper, invited Americans to attend the inauguration of Japan’s Young Astronaut Club next Friday at Tsukuba, the high technology center near Tokyo. They were quickly chosen through telephone interviews, she said.

Reagan told the Japan-bound group in a message read by Anderson that they were embarking ″on a great adventure in partnership,″ and ″our common goal is to reach for the stars together″ in quest of ″a better future for all mankind.″

Col. Frederick D. Gregory, commander of the April 1985 shuttle flight, is making the trip to Japan along with Stephen Raybould, 12, of Chester, Va., and Autumn Bourne, 13, of Tacoma, Wash., schoolteacher Virginia Nanette Nettles of North Charleston, S.C., and Butler.

The Challenger disaster ″was a learning experience,″ said Ms. Nettles, who was chosen for the trip as an outstanding chapter leader of the Young Astronauts, a privately-sponsored educational organization which speakers said now has 250,000 members in 10,000 chapters.

To join, young Americans up to the ninth grade level are asked to pledge to improve their grades in science, mathematics and other space-related subjects.

Ms. Bourne said she has been studying the shuttle program and this year’s disaster made her feel closer to it. Raybould, who wants to be an astrophysicist, said earth ″is such a limited dot in the universe, it overwhelms me″ and he wants to learn ″what’s up there″ in space.

After its inauguration, the new Japanese club, with 6,725 members, plans to send nine boys, six girls and two teachers on a U.S. visit that will include the Johnson Space Center and Houston Museum of Natural Science in Texas and the Cosmos Fair in Kansas.

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