First ‘Space Week’ gives down-to-earth look at the stars

First ‘Space Week’ gives down-to-earth look at the stars

The near heavens are atop the agenda, with lectures, exhibitions, and a major international conference taking place here

The Israel Space Agency's Facebook app (Photo credit: Courtesy)
The Israel Space Agency's Facebook app (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Israel has sent up numerous space satellites — as well as an Israeli, with tragic consequences — but now space is coming to Israel. Or, more specifically, the heads of 14 space agencies from around the world are slated to come here, as Israel this week holds its first ever Space Week, commemorating the 10th anniversary of the death of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia.

The gathering of the heads of the space agencies is to take place in conjunction with a series of events for the general public, including an online Q&A session with NASA astronauts and the launch of a fun Facebook app. The conference is slated to begin Tuesday, but associated events are to take place beginning Sunday.

The conference is being touted as the largest number of top foreign space officials to visit Israel at one time, with the 14 gathering for the annual Ilan Ramon Space Conference, jointly organized by the Israel Space Agency and the Fischer Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies in Herzliya.

The guest list included a Who’s Who of space exploration: NASA head Charles Frank Bolden Jr., who is to be leading a delegation of astronauts and US space command officials, the director-general of the European Space Agency (ESA), the heads of space agencies in France, Italy, Brazil, the Netherlands, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Russia, Canada, Norway, and Denmark, and a top representative of the China Space Agency.

Israel’s top space officials, including the head of the Israel Space Agency, Yitzchak Ben-Yisrael, plan to attend, as do commanders of the Israeli Air Force, along with the heads of Israel Aircraft Industries and other space-related companies. The political establishment is to be represented as well, with President Shimon Peres making an appearance (via video) along with Minister of Science and Technology Daniel Hershkowitz. The program is to include comments by Rona Ramon, the widow of Ilan Ramon.

Among the events at the conference is a discussion of the inclusion of Ilan Ramon in the US space program, as well as a memorial service in his memory. A key session, titled “The Future of Space Exploration,” is to be led by NASA’s Bolden.

Space Week isn’t just for professional “space cadets.” Anyone with an interest in space travel, missile technology, and Israel’s satellite program can attend one of dozens of lectures and demonstrations in the Tel Aviv area throughout the week (complete schedule here, in Hebrew).

The lectures are planned to deal with hot topics in space research, including small satellites, electronic warfare in space, the first Israeli spaceship that is being built for a moonshot, the possibility of extraterrestrial life, dangers to mankind from space, and more. All events are to be open to the public free of charge

Schoolkids have an opportunity to get involved as well. Students in the fourth through sixth grades from around the country have been busy over the past months building intricate, detailed models of planets in the solar system, and these will be on display in three science museums — Clore Garden of Science in Rehovot, the Science Museum in Jerusalem, and Haifa’s Madatech — beginning Sunday. Also on display are to be scales models of launchers, satellites and rocket ships that have been launched in the past, and models and exhibitions on new technologies for space travel and exploration in the future.

The Israel Space Agency’s Facebook page is also hosting an online chat with a NASA astronaut, enabling Israelis to ask about space exploration, what it’s like to soar to the stars, and more (date, time, and identity of the astronaut to be announced on the agency’s Facebook page).

And if you’re really into space travel, you can see how you would look in one of those cool spacesuits, using an app developed specifically for Space Week.

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