International Ilan Ramon Space Conference in Herzliya, last week
Photo: Ido Erez
Israel's first astronaut, the late Ilan Ramon
Will Israel send its second Israeli astronaut to space in the near future? Representatives of the Israel Space Agency at the Science and Technology Ministry have made the first move toward this goal by applying to add an Israeli astronaut to the International Space Station (ISS).
The ISS is operated by a consortium which includes five participating space agencies: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Russian Federal Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).
The request was submitted to the consortium's representatives during the seventh annual International Ilan Ramon Space Conference held in Herzliya last week by the Israel Space Agency and the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies.
The conference was attended by senior space agency representatives from 14 countries.
The Israeli agency reps told the guests that Israel was interested in sending an astronaut to the space station, which is regularly manned by six astronauts from several countries.
According to Science Ministry officials, the international space agency heads did not reject the request and promised to review it.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said there was a good chance that a second Israeli astronaut would be placed in space. However, as NASA no longer sends manned space shuttles, astronauts based in the ISS are launched from Russia.
The Science Ministry said in response that the agency had begun looking into the options and consequences.
"We cannot launch an astronaut on our own, it's a bit too much for us financially, but the consortium which comprises the International Space Station can sponsor the costs," said Israel Space Agency Chairman Prof. Isaac Ben-Israel.
"We are looking into the option of sending an Israeli scientist or researcher," he said.
He added that Israel might be admitted into the consortium as a full-fledged member or as an observer state. It could also remain outside the consortium and still send an astronaut on its behalf as a scientific experiment contributor.
"That's the way we sent the late Ilan Ramon," explained Ben-Israel. "The Americans accepted our offer to carry out a certain experiment, and Ilan joined the Columbia Space Shuttle as the executor of that experiment."
When will we see an Israeli in the International Space Station?
"It's too early to say because we've just started working on it. It will take at least three years, because even after someone is chosen he'll have to take a two-and-a-half-year course.
"We told the international representatives what we want and they explained the limitations, and now we're checking what matches our needs and how much it will cost. In the long run we want to become part of the European State Agency, which has 27 member countries."
A significant step toward this goal was made last week. Science Ministry Director-General Menachem Grinblum and Dr. Paul Weissenberg, deputy director-general for Enterprise and Industry at the European Commission, signed an agreement allowing researchers and space industry officials to cooperate with their European counterparts and receive international research and development budgets.