By Bradley Martin/JNS.org
“Do you remember when Leonard Nimoy said, ‘Live long and prosper?’” Dr. Frederick Krantz asked an audience at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of Montreal. Listeners chuckled in approval of his “Star Trek” reference, indicating that a large percentage were familiar with the iconic TV series and had fond memories of the late Canadian-Jewish actor. Krantz continued, “Well, that is very true. Israel is not only a power in the Middle East, but will be a power in space.”
The Canadian Institute for Jewish Research (CIJR) on April 14 held its 28th anniversary gala, an event titled “Israel in Space.” It was North America’s largest-ever gathering dedicated to Israel’s space exploration achievements, with an estimated 200 attendees, according to Krantz.
“My hope is that knowledge of Israel’s space program will show what a benefit the Jewish state is for mankind,” said Krantz, the director of CIJR.
The conference not only showcased Israel’s growing contributions to space exploration, but it was also a night dedicated in memory of the late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died in 2003 on the fatal mission of the Columbia space shuttle.
“I can’t quite see it right now, but there is a relationship between human space flight and peace in the Middle East,” Ramon once told his friend, former Canadian Space Agency president Steve MacLean. “When I get back, I am going to focus on that.”
The keynote address was given by Tal Inbar, head of Space & UAV Studies at The Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, which was founded by the Israel Air Force Association. Inbar recounted how Israel embarked on a national space program in order to monitor Egyptian military movements via satellite. This was done after the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula, in order to ensure that Egypt was honoring its commitments as outlined in the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty. Inbar said that this technological edge is even more important now, in order to monitor the activity of Iran, and that Israel needs to maintain its superiority in ballistic missile technology.
“Israel is, to put it politely, geographically challenged by its neighbors,” said Inbar, outlining the barriers to Israeli space ventures. “So, we are the only nation in the world that launches its satellites in the wrong direction! While everyone else launches their rockets eastwards, with the Earth’s rotation, we have to launch west in order to avoid our rockets being shot down. So, we lose about one-third of the lifting capability of out launched vehicles.”
“Israel is home to the only launch facility that is next to an active nuclear research center, two major cities, and a port with large deposits of oil. It is also within range of rockets from Gaza,” Inbar added in reference to Palmachim, an Israeli military base and spaceport located near the Mediterranean.
Despite these geopolitical obstacles, Israel’s contributions to space exploration technology have been noted throughout the world. It was announced in February 2016 that the Israel Space Agency would become an official member of the United Nations Committee on Space Affairs. In October 2015, the U.N. accepted Israel into its prestigious Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, an accord that is expected to allow Israeli experts to influence significant global projects, such as using satellites in real-time to aid rescue teams during disasters.
Israel currently has 15 civilian satellites orbiting the Earth, two-thirds of which are communication devices, with the remainder being communication platforms. Israel is reportedly the smallest country in the world to launch its own satellites. It is also one of only 11 nations with the ability to independently launch unmanned missions into space.
Israeli advancements in space technology have also played a critical role in the ongoing exploration of Mars. Developed by Siemens in Israel, the Product Lifestyle Management software that enabled NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories to accurately model the performance of the Curiosity rover has been integral in determining whether life ever arose on Mars, as well as preparing the “red planet” for future human exploration.
Bradley Martin is a fellow at the Haym Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought and a research assistant for the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.
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