Eleven years after tragic loss of Colonel Ilan Ramon in Columbia shuttle disaster, the Israel Space Agency is in contact with the US, European, Russian and Chinese space agencies about the possibility of their dispatching an Israeli astronaut for a few weeks’ stay on the International Space Station.
If accepted, however, it would not happen for another four years or so.
Prof. Yitzhak Ben-Yisrael, ISA chairman – which is part of the Science, Technology and Space Ministry – told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday he thought there would “be many candidates eager to go to space – despite the tragedy that killed Israel’s first astronaut, Col. Ilan Ramon, on the ill-fated US National Aeronautics and Space Administration Columbia mission in February 2003.”
Ben-Yisrael said there are talks with other space agencies, but nothing has been agreed.
“All the flights to the space station are fully booked for at least two years,” he said. “But if we want a second Israeli astronaut, we have to start talking now.”
As NASA ended its shuttle flights, the only place open to would-be astronauts is the International Space Station (ISS) via a Russian Soyuz space vehicle. Up to three astronauts at a time stay in space for a few weeks, although the longest period anyone had lived there was a year.
Ramon, who died along with his fellow astronauts when the Columbia crashed, had gone through a seven-year process of being selected and undergoing NASA astronaut training.
Although most Israelis believe an astronaut has to be an air force pilot, Ben-Yisrael said this is not true.
“The Americans have sent women and men – people who are teachers, scientists or in other professions and not just pilots,” he said.
They have to succeed in physical, cognitive and other tests and prove they can function well under stress. There is no formal age limit, one of NASA’s first astronauts, was nearly 80 years old when he went on a flight for the second time, said Ben-Yisrael.
The cost of Ramon’s participation, including two years abroad, was paid for by NASA as part of a cooperation agreement with Israel. Nothing has been discussed on whether the ISA would have to pay for a second astronaut’s participation.
He said he did not know whether Yitzhak Mayo, who was Ramon’s backup and trained along with him but never went to space, would be interested in applying.
ISA officials met a few months ago in China with their counterparts to discuss their participation in next week’s Israel Space Week conference in Israel.
The possibility of a second Israeli astronaut sent to the ISS was discussed not only with the Chinese space agency, but also with several others. Some 3,000 scientists and space agency officials are expected to participate.
A year ago it was decided in the International Astronautics Federation that Israel will host the world space conference in 2015.