Israel bids farewell to Armstrong, but cooperation with NASA going strong

Blue-and-white technology plays an important part in American space missions both present and past

GE Healthcare's Vivid-q system (Photo credit: Courtesy)
GE Healthcare's Vivid-q system (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Israel officially bade farewell to Neil Armstrong Sunday, a day after the 82-year-old space pioneer died.

Speaking at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the first man to walk on the moon, who “symbolized the spirit of human curiosity, humanity’s will to break through barriers, to understand the secrets of the universe, to understand the infinity of space and time and the significance of our universe in that infinity.”

“I do not think that many people have had the privilege of taking such a far-reaching step,” Netanyahu said of Armstrong, who visited Israel in 2007. “There are those who reached new continents and crossed new oceans, but this was the first time that a human being set foot on another world. This was a breakthrough that will forever stand in the annals of human history.”

This July 20, 1969 file photo provided by NASA shows Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, the first men to land on the moon, plant the U.S. flag on the lunar surface. (photo credit: AP Photo/NASA)
This July 20, 1969 file photo provided by NASA shows Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, the first men to land on the moon, plant the U.S. flag on the lunar surface. (photo credit: AP Photo/NASA)

NASA, the agency Armstrong worked for, has been making history for decades, and in recent years Israel has been privileged to be a part of that history, with the most recent example being the Israeli-developed hardware and software that accompanied NASA’s Curiosity probe to Mars. To develop the Curiosity and ensure that it could withstand the harsh elements of the Martian atmosphere, NASA used product lifecycle management (PLM) software developed by Siemens in Israel. Also developed in Israel for Curiosity was a cryogenic cooler, made by a company on Kibbutz Ein Harod, to preserve materials gathered from the Martian surface for analysis.

Israel’s cooperation with NASA goes back to at least 1985, Israel Space Agency officials said, and NASA has signed several cooperation agreements with Israel, the first in 1996. That agreement paved the way for the training of the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon, at the Johnson Space Center for five years starting in 1998 in preparation for his mission on the Space Shuttle Columbia. That shuttle tragically exploded upon reentry into the earth’s atmosphere on February 1, 2003, killing all on board. In 2004, NASA established a memorial for Ramon at Thomas Lee Inlet, on the north shore of Devon Island off Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Ramon’s ill-fated flight was Israel’s most famous foray into outer space, but its technology and equipment have made the journey numerous times.

Among Israeli innovations is one used to keep astronauts healthy: the Vivid-q Cardiovascular Ultrasound system, developed by GE Healthcare’s R&D lab in Israel. The system monitors astronauts on the International Space Station to determine the long-term impact of “captivity” in space on the human body. NASA is using the system in several studies, including one called the Integrated Cardiovascular study which is exploring the effect of space travel on the heart.

One of the consequences of long-term residence in space, scientists say, is a condition called cardiac atrophy, in which the heart gets weaker and can even get smaller. The study, which has been ongoing for several years, is trying to determine just how badly long-duration space flight impacts the heart.

Israel’s representative agency in its agreement with NASA is the Israel Space Agency, the official government body that deals with space travel. But there are a number of private and academic institutions in Israel that are also highly involved in space matters, among them the Fisher Institute for Strategic Air and Space Studies. The Institute signed an agreement recently with NanoRacks, a private US contractor to NASA, to develop equipment and experiments for NASA missions. As part of the agreement, several Israeli biomedical experiments were conducted on the final mission of NASA’s Endeavour space shuttle earlier this year.

Israel’s space technology provides benefits beyond increasing humanity’s knowledge of what lies beyond: Based on its research for space flight, the Fisher Institute recently introduced the MedUAV, a “doctor in a drone” device that can be used to treat people whom medical personnel may not be able to reach for hours. The MedUAV flies under remote control, transporting in all the gear necessary for treatment of the injured. It is equipped with the technology to administer tests or even drugs. The device is monitored and controlled remotely by a doctor, who can check the patient’s readings when s/he is hooked up to it. In addition, if there is an individual present to help the injured person, the doctor can use voice and even video to instruct the field worker in how to use the equipment properly.

When he signed NASA’s latest agreement with the Israel Space Agency in 2010, NASA director Charles Bolden said that the agency “welcomes the growing strategic cooperation with Israel.”

“Israel is one of the anchors of cooperation with NASA, along with several other countries. We will consider expansion of cooperation on other applications in space exploration and development of integrated technologies” with Israel, Bolden added.

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