Israel signs onto NASA-led Artemis program to land astronauts on lunar surface

Space program hopes to establish long-term human presence on moon as a warm-up for future missions to Mars

Ricky Ben-David is a Times of Israel editor and reporter

This illustration provided by SpaceX shows the SpaceX Starship human lander design that will carry the first NASA astronauts to the surface of the Moon under the Artemis program. (SpaceX/NASA via AP)
This illustration provided by SpaceX shows the SpaceX Starship human lander design that will carry the first NASA astronauts to the surface of the Moon under the Artemis program. (SpaceX/NASA via AP)

Israel officially signed onto a space program led by NASA on Wednesday to land astronauts on the lunar surface and establish a long-term human presence on the moon as a warm-up for future missions to Mars.

The agreement to join the Artemis program establishes principles of cooperation on space exploration and human presence on the moon and will allow Israel to embark on new space research collaborations, both commercial and economic, with other participating countries, said the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology on Wednesday.

Over a dozen countries have already signed on to the NASA-led Artemis Accords including Australia, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, Italy, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Japan and South Korea. Israel is the 15th country to join the program, which is led by NASA in partnership with the European Space Agency, US commercial spaceflight operators and participating nations’ space agencies.

NASA is seeking to establish a sustainable presence on the moon, and use the lessons it learns to plan a crewed trip to Mars in the 2030s. The program hopes to build a permanent outpost on the moon, including an Artemis Base Camp on the surface and a dedicated station, Gateway, in lunar orbit to allow “robots and astronauts to explore more and conduct more science than ever before.”

First signed in October 2020 by its founding members, the Artemis Accords are built on 10 principles meant to govern civil exploration of outer space. These principles include peaceful exploration, transparency, the release of scientific data, emergency assistance to personnel of all countries, and the use of space resources in compliance with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which forms the basis of international space law.

Earth from 36,000 nautical miles away as photographed from the Apollo 10 spacecraft during its trans-lunar journey toward the moon, May 18, 1969. (NASA via AP)

The agreement with Israel was signed Wednesday by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and Israel Space Agency (ISA) Director-General Uri Oron, over a week after Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said the country would join the program.

“We are moving toward a global and innovative future where countries mobilize resources for science and research and work together to advance space diplomacy. To sign the accords will strengthen cooperation with other signatories in the field of trade and economy,” Lapid wrote on Twitter last Sunday.

The first planned unmanned test flight, Artemis 1 is scheduled for March, using NASA’s new SLS rocket but observers expect the space agency to push the launch to summer. Artemis 2 is technically scheduled for 2023 and Artemis 3 for 2024. A moon landing is expected in 2025.

NASA has said the moonwalkers will include the first woman and the first person of color to make the trip.

Illustrative: In this July 20, 1969 photo made available by NASA, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, walks on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity. (Neil Armstrong/NASA via AP)

Elon Musk’s SpaceX was tapped to design and build the human lander that will carry the first astronauts to the moon under the Artemis program, which will establish humanity’s return to the moon for the first time since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

Science and Technology Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen said Israel was joining the international effort to make the moon “more than a stop, but a place on which to remain for a significant amount of time, in order to allow developments and research that cannot be done anywhere else. Israel can and should play a central role in this dream.”

“Signing this agreement now is another building block in our relationship with the United States, our greatest friend in the world. The essence of the Artemis program — to do something bold, and inspiring, land people — women and men — on the moon once again, after five decades,” she added.

The ISA’s Oron said: “Israel today joins the 14 countries that share similar values ​​regarding the future use of lunar resources, Mars and other celestial bodies…for the benefit of all humankind. I am convinced that through the Artemis program, all of humanity will advance, not only in space but also here on Earth.”

Israel Space Agency (ISA) Director-General Uri Oron signs the Artemis Accords for Israel as it joins the NASA-led program to establish a human presence on the moon, January 26, 2022. (Tzipi Vilmovski/GPO)

Space exploration, he said, holds enormous potential “for Israel in particular, and for the entire world, in the fields of innovation, technology and international diplomacy,” added Oron.

“The Israel Space Agency will work to ensure… the collaborations in research, science, innovation and economics within the framework of the Artemis Accords between Israeli bodies and our international colleagues. ”

Israel is currently marking its annual Space Week with a rush of events and space-related announcements.

Earlier this week, the country announced 35 finalized scientific, medical and educational experiments set to be performed this spring by Israeli astronaut Eytan Stibbe as part of Israel’s Rakia Mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

The Rakia (sky in Hebrew) program is part of Axiom Space Ax-1, the world’s first private mission to the ISS. Stibbe will travel to the space station onboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule in late March (target date: March 31, 2022) and is set to conduct some three dozen micro-gravity experiments in cooperation with Israeli universities, research groups and tech startups.

Israeli astronaut Eytan Stibbe. (Ori Burg)

The selected experiments reflect a wide spectrum of scientific and technological disciplines — including radiation, genomics, immunology, neural functioning, quantum communication, astrophysics, agri-tech, communications, optics, ophthalmology, medical devices and disease research.

Among them is an anti-radiation suit co-developed by Israeli company Stemrad in partnership with Lockheed Martin to protect astronauts’ vital organs from harmful gamma radiation. Exposure can result in radiation sickness, the accelerated destruction of the blood cells and the inability of the body to replenish them, due to the damage sustained to bone marrow, which is needed to generate new cells.

The vest, Astrorad, is also expected to be aboard the Artemis 1.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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