Global space community to reach for the stars

The International Astronautic Congress will bring most of the world’s experts in the field to Jerusalem.

Deep space bright nebula (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Deep space bright nebula
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Since mankind first raised its eyes to the heavens outer space has fascinated us; thousands of years passed before we could travel in space and begin to uncover its mysteries and potential.
Now, mankind has seriously begun to harness space for its benefit.
With the huge cost of space research and development, the leading countries in the field have shifted from competitiveness to cooperation with other nations. Generated by the necessity of international cooperation, space projects are being carried out together by representatives of a number of countries. This has led to joint work in space research and development that could lead to better understanding and tolerance among people and nations.
Even the sky will not be the limit when more than 3,500 space researchers, industry representatives, the heads of nearly 40 national space agencies, policy makers, former astronauts and cosmonauts, parliamentarians, government officials, students and exhibitors from 70 countries converge on Jerusalem next week. About 1,000 participants in the annual International Astronautic Congress (IAC) will be Israelis.
One of the biggest celebrities due to arrive is 85-year-old Edwin Eugene (“Buzz”) Aldrin, who was part of the Apollo 11 team and the second man to walk on moon after Neal Armstrong made his historic first steps for mankind. A former Russian cosmonaut will reminisce about the development of the first space suit 50 years ago.
Among the heads of foreign space agencies scheduled to come will be Charles Bolden, head of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); Xu Dazhe, administrator of China’s CNSA; Igor Komarov, head of Russia’s ROSOSMOS; Naoki Okumura, president of Japan’s JAXA; and Jan Woerner, the new director-general of the European Space Agency (ESA).
“The congress is the best proof of the importance of Israel in the eyes of the world,” said Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis.
“Israel has made significant contributions to abilities in space, so it’s only natural that it host the largest scientific conference in this field. It will serve as a place for the world space community to meet and make it possible for participants to complete joint projects for the good of science and mankind.”
There will be 2,000 lectures and 30 symposia at the International Convention Center, added the new minister, and a huge exhibition of space technology, “and it will give us an opportunity to stress our uniqueness in the space field and the special character of Jerusalem,” he continued.
Almost no other politicians will be present, because the event will be strictly scientific and professional, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will greet the participants in a prepared video message.
Due to the large number of participants, some of the activities will spill over into the adjacent Crowne Plaza Hotel. Some 100 firms – including Lockheed-Martin, Airbus, Rafael and El-Op, to name a few – will be represented at the exhibition.
Some of the latest space developments that will surely be discussed are the news from NASA that running water has been discovered on Mars, as well as the magnificent, first-ever photos of Pluto that were sent to Earth not long ago by the New Horizons spacecraft.
Other recent developments include the expected landing of the ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft at the end of a decade-long mission to the 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko (C-G) comet. The ESA will be the first to soft-land a robot on a comet and the first to accompany a comet as it enters our inner solar system, observing at close range how the comet changes as the Sun’s heat transforms it into the luminous apparition that has frightened and inspired people for centuries.
The Rosetta spacecraft is named after the ancient Rosetta Stone displayed in London’s British Museum.
The Philae lander is named after the Philae Obelisk which, together with the Rosetta Stone provided the key to our first understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Scientists hope the Rosetta spacecraft will enable them to translate the even older language of comets, as expressed by their thermal signatures, into new knowledge about the origins of our solar system and, perhaps, life on Earth.
The life and accomplishments of Col. Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first and only astronaut, who perished in NASA’s ill-fated Columbia mission, will be commemorated during the congress, and his widow Rona will be present.
THE JERUSALEM gathering will be only the second time in 66 years that the annual IAC has met in Israel, said Israel Space Agency (ISA) chairman Prof. Isaac Ben-Israel.
The retired IDF major-general, who is among the hosts of the congress, in fact did not study space sciences.
Born in Tel Aviv 66 years ago, he studied physics, mathematics and philosophy at Tel Aviv University (TAU), receiving his doctorate in 1988. But he joined the Israel Air Force (IAF) at the age of 18 for his military service and remained in it continuously until his retirement in 2002.
Ben-Israel headed the operations research branch in the analysis and assessment division of IAF intelligence and was the head of the IDF’s and the Defense Ministry’s military R&D. Then he was promoted to director of the ministry’s defense R&D directorate, and during his service he twice received the Israel Defense Award (one for developing a “C4 system” for secure communications networks and the second for a project “introducing a new concept of future warfare”).
Although all this might seem a prominent career on its own, Ben-Israel went on to TAU for two more careers – academic and political.
In the first, he was a professor who headed the Curiel Center for International Studies and the program for security studies and became a member of the Jaffe Centre for Strategic Studies. Eager to have an influence on the direction of the country as a whole, he joined the Kadima Party and served on its behalf as an MK between June 2007 and February 2009, during which time the former general was a member of the Knesset security and foreign affairs committee, finance committee and science and technology committee and chaired the homeland security subcommittee.
As head of the ISA, he published in 2006 a book with the intriguing title Science, Technology and Security: From Soldiers in Combat up to Outer Space. Ben-Israel recalled that he was a student of the late TAU Prof. Yuval Ne’eman, who was the founder in 1982 of the Science Ministry (as it was called then) and twice headed it as minister.
The first time the congress met in Jerusalem was in the early 1990s.
“Since then, the annual gathering has grown considerably. Israel was overdue to host the event for a second time,” said Ben-Israel, “considering the fact that this country is a member of a very small, select group of nations that develop satellites; it is known for excelling in planning and building the smallest, refrigerator- sized machines for communications, such as beaming TV signals.”
Last year, the congress was convened in Toronto. “As with the Olympics,” explained Ben-Israel in an interview with The Jerusalem Post before the congress, “it is decided three years before where it will be held. Jerusalem was agreed upon as the venue, but as Operation Protective Edge was carried out in Gaza in 2014, there were those who said it would be a mistake to go ahead with it. They said they were not against Israel, but that it might be ‘dangerous.’ We assured them that it would not be risky.”
Israel’s science, technology and space minister then, Ya’akov Peri, fought hard for Jerusalem, and the congress was not moved, Ben-Israel recalled. The ISA chief does not think that the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement abroad will prevent space professionals and others from attending.
“BDS did not reduce the number of expected participants. Those who were at the Toronto event said they were not opposed to Israel as the 2015 venue, but that it might be dangerous. We said it would not be, and all plans went ahead,” recalled the ISA chief.
Among the participants at the 66th annual congress will be representatives from Arab and Muslim countries including from the Persian Gulf, Jordan and Egypt, as well as Indonesia, but not from Syria or Lebanon.
Ben-Israel said that cyberspace will be a major topic of lectures, as will “space garbage” that is beginning to be a serious problem.
“Satellites function until they die, but they are not buried. They remain there in pretty much the same location as they circle the Earth. There are ideas of building satellites that can remove the ‘bodies’ like giant garbage-collection trucks, or to push the junk to a higher level, safely out of the way so they don’t collide with anything important,” the head of the ISA noted.
The Knesset science, technology and space committee will hold a special event outside the convention center to which parliamentary delegations that deal with space issues in their countries will discuss their experiences and issues. At the Supreme Court nearby, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein will head a dramatized “trial” on space ethics, with three judges from the International Court of Justice in The Hague and Hebrew University students serving as advocates. The Foreign Ministry was instrumental in organizing the event. The fictional issue will be what do with an asteroid that threatens the Earth and was destroyed but whose debris threatens to cause harm to other parts of the world.
“We want to present Israel as not just a place of conflict with Palestinians but a site where science and technology are prominent and seriously discussed,” stressed Ben-Israel.
The congress organizers are at the end of the process of collecting texts of the 2,000 lectures to be delivered; the amassed texts will be published as a book.
“I estimate that there are some 5,000 experts in the space field around the world, so those convening in Jerusalem will be the majority,” said Ben-Israel. The IAC has become known as the world’s best global space congress, he added.
“Through shared best practices and research, networking, training, hands-on opportunities and an expansive exhibit hall, participants will have a chance to network, attend sessions and find information and products that have proven beneficial to the industry.”
Participants, he concluded, will have numerous and unique opportunities to learn from experts in the field and see the latest products and strategies to best meet their specific needs. Presenters will be approachable; exhibitors are knowledgeable with interactive presentations.
Attendees can take advantage of an international collaborative platform and share knowledge on the latest innovations and projects in the space and astronautics industries.