By Bradley Martin/JNS.org
While Israel already has a reputation for being the “start-up nation” and a major hub for technological innovation, this year’s Space Week in the Jewish state showed that Israeli ingenuity is—quite literally—out of this world.
In a culmination of events highlighting Israel’s contributions to space exploration, Space Week 2016 honored the late Col. Ilan Ramon, the first and only Israeli astronaut.
Ramon was a space shuttle payload specialist who was killed along with his six crew members when the Columbia shuttle disintegrated upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere on Feb. 2, 2003.
Every year, the Ramon Foundation, in conjunction with the Israeli Ministry of Science and the Israel Space Agency, organizes a number of events hosting astronauts and leading space scientists. The purpose, according to the Ramon Foundation, is for these individuals “to visit as many schools, space clubs, and science centers as possible.”
“The goal is to get as many young people as possible exposed to space research and develop their sense of curiosity in the sciences,” said Israeli Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis.
For the event, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) loaned artifacts used by Ramon. Exhibited at the Israeli Air Force Center in Herzliya, NASA included a camera used by Ramon in space, his control system, a recording drive, and other electronic equipment.
Ramon was also carrying out a Mediterranean Israeli Dust Experiment (MEIDEX) while in space. In an exhibit designed by Tel Aviv University, NASA sent remains of that experiment to be displayed in Israel for the first time.
Rona Ramon launched the Ramon Foundation in her late husband’s honor, asking NASA chief Charles Bolden if the items could be brought to Israel for Space Week.
“I’m moved that the head of NASA remembered my request and that he answered affirmatively that we could bring parts of the shuttle to Israel to enable our young people to get inspiration from the stories of Ilan. We hope that the next generation will take heart and inspiration from the story of Ilan and the shuttle,” said Rona Ramon.
NASA astronauts Garrett Reisman, Shannon Walker, and Joseph Acaba arrived in Israel in order to take part in the numerous lectures and discussions on space exploration.
Other eminent individuals who came to Israel to participate in the events included Yi So-yeon, a biotechnologist and astronaut who became the first Korean to fly in space, and Samantha Cristoforetti, who is the first Italian woman in space. She also holds the records for the longest single space flight by a woman and the first person to have brewed an espresso coffee in space.
Israel is reportedly the smallest country in the world to launch its own satellites. It is also one of only 11 states with the ability to independently launch unmanned missions into space. Currently, Israel has 15 civilian satellites orbiting the Earth, two-thirds of which are communication devices, with the remainder being communication platforms.
Israeli space technology has played a critical role in the exploration of Mars. The Product Lifestyle Management software that enabled NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories to accurately model the performance of the Curiosity rover was developed by Siemens in Israel.
It was announced last week that the Israel Space Agency will become an official member of the United Nations Committee on Space Affairs. This comes after Israel was accepted into the U.N. Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in October 2015.
“Israel will be able to contribute more of our know-how and abilities for peace, and pave the way for expanding international cooperation in space. We will be part of a small circle of countries that influence world priorities in the field,” said Daniel Brook, an ISA adviser on international cooperation.
This accord is expected to allow Israeli experts to influence global projects, such as helping rescue teams during disasters, by using satellites in real-time.
Israeli space explorers now have their sights set on planting their flag on the Moon. SpaceIL is an Israeli non-profit organization competing in the Google Lunar X Prize, to launch a spacecraft on the Moon by 2017. GLXP is offering $20 million to land a robot on the Moon, travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and have it send video, images, and data back to Earth.
On a shoestring budget, SpaceIL stands out from its well-funded competition as being the only non-profit organization in the competition whose team is 95 percent comprised of volunteers. SpaceIL aims to be the smallest and lightest spacecraft to ever land on the Moon.
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