When Zeev Isaac set out to create the largest space exhibition in the country, he didn’t realize just how highly regarded Israel was within the global space industry.

“Do you realize that you’re sitting in a country which is one of the leaders” in the space industry, he was asked by chief NASA scientists and administrators upon requesting their assistance in putting together the exhibit. “How would I have known?” he said. “It’s not generally known by the Israeli public at all.”

At the “Space Mania” exhibition, visitors can learn not only about space exploration worldwide, but also about Israel’s space history.

“I didn’t know that Israel was one of the eight prominent countries in space exploration,” Isaac said. “Israel deals not so much with astronauts, but more with communication, espionage, all those other exciting things.”

Space Mania also highlights the life and career of Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, through excerpts from the personal diary he took to space, which was provided by the Ramon family.

The exhibit, which opened in July, is aimed at visitors of all ages, including spacecurious adults and children looking for a day of fun, according to Isaac, the exhibit’s promoter.

Having explored other NASA-sponsored space exhibits, Isaac says he wanted to avoid the typical museum-style atmosphere by making Space Mania more exciting, through interactive displays.

The exhibition begins by introducing visitors to man’s early perceptions of space.

Such examples include the biblical Tower of Babel tale, Egyptian pyramids that were designed to point at specific stars, as well as the studies of astronomers Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo.

At the exhibit, these perceptions transition into the early beginnings of the space industry, as it details the space race between the US and USSR, before going on to tell about global achievements in space.

Space Mania tells these stories through authentic items provided by NASA and the US Space and Rocket Center, according to Isaac. These displays include full-size models of the US space shuttle cockpit, the International Space Station work unit, and a prototype of a new satellite capsule that will take people to space in next 10-15 years.

The exhibition also features a wide collection of meteorites, including one of the largest in the world, weighing about a ton, another from Mars, and the biggest stone found from a meteor shower in Russia in February.

A human-size stone which resembles the face of a screaming man is also on display, Isaac says, noting the public is allowed to actually touch any of these objects.

“I wanted to give people an appetite to get involved with exploring [space]. That’s why I wanted them to be able to touch a lot of the items or to walk into some of the items,” Isaac said, describing a 17-meter Russian space station visitors can enter.

“You walk into this and you get a feeling of giddiness. Because we put it on a tilt, you walk in, take a few steps, and the whole world seems to be moving around you.”

A popular part of the exhibit among children is what Isaac calls the “interactive area,” with flight and shuttle cockpit simulators, some of which spin “until your kishkes come out.” It also entails an interactive movie in which participants have to avoid meteorites while flying to Mars.

“That’s the sort of thing we wanted people to have; the feeling that it’s not to be seen as a museum piece or to be read about, but to actually feel a part of the whole thing,” he said.

The exhibit is located at the Tel Aviv Port at a facility called Hangar 11, and is open Sunday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., and on Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is scheduled to run until the end of August, with the possibility of extending it further, according to Isaac.

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