As a child growing up in Israel, Eliad Peretz was fascinated by space and the night sky. His goal, which he laid out in a five-year plan that he wrote as a fifth-grader, was to work for the organization whose mission was to address the big questions he wanted to pursue: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
“I’m living my dream,” Peretz, who currently works at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., told JNS in a phone interview.
On May 1, the American Technion Society will celebrate Peretz, a graduate of the Technion’s aerospace engineering faculty and a recipient of NASA’s exceptional achievement medal in a ceremony at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Speakers at the event, which is pegged both to Israel’s 75th anniversary and to the Technion’s upcoming centennial next year, include Peretz Lavie, a former Technion president and chairman of the Israeli Friends of Technion; as well as Technion and NASA colleagues, including John Mather, a senior NASA astrophysicist and winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in physics.
Ahead of the event, Peretz told JNS about his current NASA job, where he works in the division of heliophysics, the science of the sun.
‘You see the universe open up in front of us’
He told JNS that the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology—Israel’s oldest university, founded in 1912—and his grandfather have inspired his career the most.
As a 5-year-old he spent a lot of time with his grandfather, a Moroccan rabbi and community leader who made aliyah in 1956. That included traveling and working with his grandfather on the family’s olive grove.
He learned several things from his grandfather and from the agricultural work that has served him well in life and career: to plan ahead, work hard (particularly with one’s hands), adapt and be patient.
The six-and-a-half years that he spent studying at the Technion were fundamental. “It helped make me who I am,” he said.
During Peretz’s doctoral studies at Cornell University, NASA came calling. That was no coincidence. Peretz had pored over NASA’s taxonomy and designs and designed his thesis purposely to meet NASA’s biggest area of need.
NASA was so interested that it paid for his studies, fees, travel and conferences, including a scholarship offered to just a dozen people nationwide. It allowed Peretz to decide which NASA team he wanted to join.
“As you learn more, there’s more you realize you don’t know,” he said of his time at NASA. “You see the universe open up in front of us, and it’s bigger than we thought.”
He has seen inventions like the James Webb Space Telescope prove various theories and assumptions wrong, and he told JNS with a laugh that future history books will correct what scientists are now learning.
One day, he hopes to supplement designing space missions with actually being part of one. His wife—a Fulbright scholar at the Technion he met at the local watering hole—isn’t thrilled about the idea of her husband going into space. He thinks ultimately she would give the green light.
Said Peretz: “I want to see it with my own eyes and feel it with my own hands.”