Israeli scientists participate in an experiment simulating a mission to Mars, at the D-MARS Desert Mars Analog Ramon Station project of Israel's Space Agency, Ministry of Science, near Mitzpe Ramon, Israel.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
Space week isn’t just for kids anymore.
Israel’s annual “Space Week” kicked off this week for its 16th year, highlighting the Science and Technology Ministry budget’s unprecedented growth, as well as the impressive number of new projects and cooperations launched this past year in the field.
“The budget for this ministry is the highest ever this year, and currently stands at half a billion shekels, to allow for a variety of activities, such as these,” Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis said.
He noted the leaps and bounds that the Jewish state has made in space exploration this year, such as Beresheet – Israel’s first lunar spacecraft
– which will be launched off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, in April.
“When the spacecraft lands on the moon during Passover, this is going to be one of the highlights of the State of Israel since its establishment. This is a national event,” Akunis said.
This past year, Israel began construction of a new Amos-8 communications satellite, a multimillion-dollar project, which led to the employment of thousands of Israelis in the industry. This is a vast turnaround since 2015, when Israel’s space industry was on the verge of collapse after the Amos-6 satellite exploded.
Cooperation with other countries is in the beginning phases for more space related endeavors.
“I foresee a great future for the State of Israel in general and in the high-tech industry and the space industry for the next decade, because I am an optimist by nature,” the minister said.
The minister noted the visit of his Chinese counterpart, Wang Zhigang, to Israel last year, where the two discussed ways to improve and further scientific research. Akunis mentioned that more cooperation is expected with South Korea, India, Brazil and Argentina, which will help Israel’s international standing in the field.
“I think that we are a powerhouse of innovation,” Akunis continued. “After all, the field of research has opened many doors for us in diplomacy.
I have no doubt that the strong desire to cooperate in the research and technology of Israel in particular improves our relations in science. I call it ‘science diplomacy.’” He later added that such relations, “are moving in the right direction, but do not satisfy me as I would hope.”
In 2018, more than half a million Israelis joined activities run by the ministry, such as subsidized science camps for children, the “Night of Scientists” event at Bar-Ilan University, international robotics competitions and “Science Day” – an annual nighttime event in March, among others.
“I call upon every citizen to come to these events,” Akunis said, noting that the ministry also has a new science “basket” that started in the past year – an allocated amount of funding for science projects in local communities. He added that events will not only be limited to big cities, but will take place in the periphery as well.
Space Week was originally instituted to commemorate the death of Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, in the Columbia space shuttle disaster of 2003, but has since become a major event that brings not only astronauts such as NASA legend Scott Kelly
to the country, but industry personalities as well. Representatives of many countries participated this year, including envoys from India and Russia.
The events stress space exploration, technology, innovation, cyber and science for everyone, but for children in particular.
When asked by The Jerusalem Post
if the number of female students in such programs has grown, Akunis answered affirmatively.
The Science and Technology Ministry’s goals are to emphasize science and technology to the general public, increase investments in research projects in space, and use such cooperation to strengthen international relations between Israel and other countries.
The last couple of years have also seen an uptick in projects.
NASA and the Israel Space Agency, along with hi-tech company StemRad, constructed the AstroRad radiation protection vest in 2017 that was used by NASA as part of its latest test flight of its Orion spacecraft. In that same year, a satellite was launched to Venus in cooperation with France.
Another program initiated was Students Build Satellites (also known by the Hebrew acronym Tabal), where high school students build tiny satellites that will be launched in the coming years. This is separate from a similar project – the HOOPOE (or Duchifat-2), which will be one of 28 nanosatellites from several countries that will conduct research on the Earth’s atmosphere.
Lastly, Akunis added that his goal, like that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to “prepare Israel for the next decade.”
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