In what took less than a minute — but probably felt like a year — a young boy experienced how astronauts train for space, as he spun around continuously in a Multi Axis Simulator at SpaceMania in Hangar 11 of Tel Aviv Port.
Needless to say, he didn’t care much for the experience.
Even so, the “ride” did what it was supposed to do. The goal of SpaceMania, an interactive and educational space exhibition, was not to make kids sick to their stomachs, but rather highlight humankind’s past and present accomplishments in space.
The showcase, which is scheduled to run through the end of July, includes simulators, space games, a historical timeline of space, and artifacts from the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
One exhibition, set up by The Ramon Foundation, commemorates Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first and so far only astronaut. Ramon tragically died in the explosion of the Columbia space shuttle on February 1, 2003. The exhibition also commemorates the life of Ilan’s son Asaf, who was training to become an Israeli Air Force fighter pilot like his father. Asaf Ramon died in a training accident in 2009.
Along with their personal stories, the display showcased Ilan’s personal journal, the kosher food that he brought to space, and pictures that he took of Israel from space, highlighting his connection not just to the State of Israel, but to the Jewish people as a whole.
The Ramon Foundation, which was set up in 2009, helps bring space-related educational events to students in Israel. Among its projects is producing programs together with pilots, and organizing experiments and activities for students at Israel’s National Space Knowledge Center, where there is a zero-gravity facility.
Inna Osadchi, the Foundation’s director for Development and Projects, the Ramon Foundation is looking to expand its projects into the United States and partner with groups such as the US Space & Rocket Center’s Space Camp. Representatives of Space Camp attended the opening of SpaceMania last week, and expressed interest in expanding their cooperation with Israel.
“My dream is for our children to come together at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, and at a space camp in Israel,” said Dr. Deborah Barnhart, CEO and executive director of Space Camp and The US Space and Rocket Center, at the opening of the exhibition.
“We just want to inspire and educate, just to make people realize that [space] is in reach,” she added.
Barnhart said the Space Camp is preparing kids for a future where space travel and innovation is commercial and international. “No one is going to fly a space shuttle in the future. It’s done.” She expects commercial space flights to begin during her lifetime; already, 600 people have put money deposits down to fly commercially on Virgin Galatic’s SpaceshipTwo, which is supposed to have its maiden voyage in 2014.
According to Menachem Kidron, the director general of the Israeli Space Agency, the future for Israeli space will involve increased cooperation with the international community. “We meet with NASA officials once or twice a year,” Kidron said, “and we also have a good connection with the European Space Agency, the French Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency.”
Israel will be working with the Italian Space Agency on a hyperspectral satellite that, said Kidron, will be able to monitor water and agriculture, and detect different types of minerals and over 250 different colors.
Another new technology on display at the exhibition is a nanosatellite — a satellite less than two feet long, that, according to Tal Inbar, the scientific adviser for the exhibition, will be used to test the function of clocks, GPS systems and small computers in space.
The nanosatellite’s most significant feature is its size and low production cost, which is cheap enough to enable anyone to buy the parts online and build it in his or her garage. However, while building the satellite may be easy, launching it into orbit is another thing, Inbar cautioned. “And you need a launcher.”
While space innovation is becoming more commercialized and the exhibition placed a large emphasis on aerospace education for youth, the goal of the exhibition was not to make every kid want to go to space. “We don’t mind if they don’t become an astronaut,” Osadchi said. “ We just want them to excel in whatever it is they are doing, just to aspire and realize their dream.”