Science education got a big boost this week when a special guest spoke to over 200 Haifa-area high school students:  U.S. Astronaut William S. McArthur, a veteran of four flights into space, told students about his career and work, and how studying science gave him a leg up on a career that included three missions on the space shuttle, and a six month stint on the International Space Station.

The venue for the meeting couldn’t have been more appropriate: Israel’s National Science Museum, Madatech, which has permanent exhibitions and ongoing shows on all things scientific. Among the programs at Madatech are shows designed to appeal to kids and teens – including one on sports science, a toddlers’ activity center, and the new Noble Energy Science Park, which comprises six thematic courtyards that present the thinking and work of noted scientists, such as Archimedes, Leonardo Da Vinci and Sir Isaac Newton.

Over half a million Israelis visit Medatech each year, checking out more than 650 interactive exhibits that illustrate science and technology concepts and include topics such as acoustics, green energy, aviation, genomics, and more. Madatech has, among others, exhibitions on road safety, optical illusions, “the magic of science,” and space travel, featuring the tragedy of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. Among the exhibitions in Madatech is one called NetRix, dedicated to the history of the internet, and especially Israel’s hi-tech contributions to the development of the internet.

McArthur told the students about his experiences in space, especially his six months on the space station. Most of the questions surrounded the daily routine of astronauts who spend a half a year at a time revolving around the earth.  McArthur told the students that they were living in a “unique period, in which you have a good opportunity to make it to space yourselves.” He urged them to invest in their science studies, success in which would prepare them for a career in the ever-expanding job market revolving around space.

“I was able to prepare for my career as an astronaut as a result of excelling in math and science,”  said McArthur, who was in Israel as a guest of the Ministry of Science and the Ilan Ramon Scholarship Fund. In today’s competitive environment, when Israel is working hard to maintain its edge in hi-tech and science in the face of the onslaught of competition from China, India, and Eastern Europe, getting kids excited about science is important – and hearing firsthand from a space traveler about his adventures “up there” is pretty exciting stuff.