No plans for Israeli role in mission to Mars

Landing of rover on Mars causes excitement at Israel Space Agency, Science and Technology Ministry in J'lem.

August 7, 2012 02:01
1 minute read.
Artist's rendition of NASA Mars rover Curiosity

Artist's rendition of NASA Mars rover Curiosity 370 (R). (photo credit: Reuters/Handout)


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The successful landing of the NASA Curiosity rover on Mars caused excitement at the Israel Space Agency and the Science and Technology Ministry in Jerusalem, as well as among academic experts in the field. But there is no plan at present for Israeli companies and researchers to join in the project from here, as participation usually entails a large financial investment, the ministry said.

“There is no such plan for formal cooperation with NASA on this,” said ministry spokeswoman Libi Oz. “Perhaps in the future.” No Israeli companies or researchers were involved in the NASA project that brought the small, car-sized lander to the surface of Mars.

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Ram Levi, a ministry adviser and a Tel Aviv University researcher on space security, said that Russia and Spain have collaborated with NASA on Curiosity.

“Israel specializes in the development of compact satellites for peaceful uses such as for observation and communications,” he told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. “We would have something to contribute, such as data analysis. We are very good at this, and at architecture, physics and astronomy.

We didn’t offer, and we weren’t asked. We have other priorities and limited funds.”

The rover is twice as big as previous Mars landing vehicles, such as Spirit and Opportunity. It has 10 scientific instruments – rather than the previous five. “I didn’t think it would be damaged in the hazardous landing. This technique of eliminating sections to slow down was better than balloons,” said Levi.

The mission will go on for 98 weeks – or almost two years – while it could last up to three years, with energy provided by batteries and solar energy, said Levi. “NASA’s previous missions looked for water trails. I don’t know if life can exist on Mars. Maybe it ended billions of years ago. But human teams might be able to be sent to live and work there.”

Exercises on Earth have already been conducted in closed locations simulating Martian conditions to assess food and water needs and human behavior under such conditions, Levi said. “The Curiosity will provide indications if human missions can be carried out. I personally would love to go – with my wife. We don’t have children yet,” said the young researcher.

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