The ninth anniversary – on February 1 – of the death of Col. Ilan Ramon is being marked with a whole week of events, including a US astronaut visiting gifted high school pupils and the Israel Space Agency (ISA) meetings to plan the country’s future moves.

Ramon, Israel’s first and only astronaut, was killed in the Columbia space shuttle crash along with six other crew members.

Retired National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Astronaut William S. McArthur, Jr., was clearly excited to meet 500 teens from around the country on Tuesday who came to the Academy of Science and Arts high school in the Malha quarter of Jerusalem. Listening to their questions about his career and space experiences, the West Point graduate encouraged them to strive for the best and think of a scientific or space career. He also expressed his hope for further Israeli cooperation with NASA.

As a veteran of three NASA space shuttle missions and one expedition to the International Space Station via the Russian Soyuz capsule, McArthur has received numerous awards and medals for his breakthrough work in the field and racked up tens of millions of kilometers in space flights. The teens from 20 schools and members of the Ilan Ramon Space Club, learned about how he slept, shaved and ate; which health problems result from the lack of gravity and what caused him the most excitement.

Every year, NASA sends a delegation to Israel to help mark the tragic loss Ramon, and also keeps in regular touch with his widow, Rona, who has since lost a son, Asaf, in the crash of an Israel Air Force F16-A.

Yitzhak Klug, the grandfather of one of the pupils present, wowed the group when he revealed that he was a US engineer involved in developing parts of the the Apollo 11 spacecraft, which in 1969 landed the first men on the moon. Klug subsequently made aliya in 1971 and worked for years at Israel Aircraft Industries.

The Israel Space Agency, meanwhile, announced that it aims to expand its relative advantage to become one of the world’s five leaders in the civilian space field. This, the agency said, will be carried out by developing new microsatellites and multi-spectral cameras, expanding space infrastructure, maximizing international cooperation in space projects and encouraging young Israelis to get interested in space research. This and many other projects, it continued, will bring Israel’s standing in civilian, economic and scientific spheres of space to the level of its expertise in space-related security.

Israel has produced 13 satellites, and nine of them are currently revolving around the earth. Of these, there are six observational and three communications satellites. These were launched and are functioning at a 100 percent success rate, the agency said. ISA’s work has huge economic implications, as the world space market totals $250 billion.

Meanwhile, the ISA – which is a part of the Science and Technology Ministry, has appointed a new director, Menahem Kidron, who has been approved by the cabinet. Kidron, who was congratulated by Minister Prof.

Daniel Herschkowitz, previously worked at Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. as a senior deputy director-general involved in space systems. He is replacing Dr. Zvi Kaplan, who is retiring after seven years in the post.

The new ISA director said that the civilian space program is of great national importance and will promote industry, academia and society. Born in Germany, Kidron has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. He worked for Rafael (Arms Development Authority) starting in 1972 and studied at Stanford University and New York University to develop lightweight structures and techniques for using coal to produce energy. Since 2009, at Rafael’s space systems administration, he ran business projects worth NIS 500 million a year.

The Finance and Science and Technology ministries have signed an agreement to invest an additional NIS 165 million in civilian space projects over the next two years.

It is expected to have a significant impact on exports. They are considering an additional expansion of their investment in space in 2013, including cooperative projects with other countries.

A feature article on the encounter between McArthur and the high school pupils will appear on The Jerusalem Post’s Science & Health Page on Sunday, February 12.

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