Akunis: Space conference a tribute to local science

Israeli, Italian space agencies sign memorandum of understanding on satellite project.

AN ASTRONAUT SUIT sits on display at the International Astronautic Congress in the capital’s Jerusalem International Convention Center last week. (photo credit: ORIT HAZON MENDEL)
AN ASTRONAUT SUIT sits on display at the International Astronautic Congress in the capital’s Jerusalem International Convention Center last week.
(photo credit: ORIT HAZON MENDEL)
Despite the wave of terrorism, the International Astronautic Congress, which brought over 2,000 space industry experts to Jerusalem was a big success, according to Science, Technology and Space Minister Ophir Akunis.
“The thousands of foreign participants are a testament to Israeli science and technology,” he said after the closing of the conference on Friday.
They and some 1,500 Israeli delegates were privy to the latest developments in the industry including plans for missions to Mars, the Rosetta Mission and new space technologies.
Those in attendance had the opportunity to hear from the most successful individuals in the space industry including 85-year-old former NASA astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, other senior astronauts, scientists and engineers involved in the most exciting projects, as well as space agency heads from around the world including the US, China, Russia and Israel.
Akunis said that “convening the congress in Jerusalem is a tribute to Israeli science. The fact that thousands of scientists, astronauts and agency heads came despite the tense situation is a testament to Israel and our scientific industries.
We are sure Israel will continue to break new barriers in science, technology and space. I want to thank all those who participated in the conference and who set a high bar for future IAC gatherings,” he said.
“Our ministry will continue to assist in any way possible when it comes to further developing Israeli science, which is a source of pride to the country as we break new ground and share our innovations with the world.”
The final panel of the conference was moderated by Dr. Igal Fatel, chairman of the Israeli Astronomical Society, and included NASA’s Jim Graf, who was project manager of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) – the satellite that is photographing Mars in high resolution, and Bernard Foing, the chief scientist of the European Space Agency.
The scientists on the panel told the audience that it’s known that water on Mars came from a number of sources and that this water originated 13.7 billion years ago. “Mars today appears very dry, but we recently discovered that Mars’s surface is extremely active, and it includes liquid brine that originates below the surface and at times erupts. Additionally, glaciers that are only millions of years old have also been discovered,” the participants learned.
Foing said the European Space Agency is planning three missions to Mars over the next few years to drill two meters into the surface in a search for water.
The missions will also study the climate and environmental surrounding in preparation for future manned mission.
Graf explained that “it took us seven months to reach Mars during the current MRO mission during which we found hints that point to a wetter past on Mars. We also found different minerals that indicate volcanic activities. We know that at a certain point the minerals developed at a higher altitude and then flowed down to lower regions.” Graf also pointed out that “we have so far covered 80 percent of the planet with photographs and imaging by satellites, but we still don’t know what led to water erupting on the surface. This is something that will need to be further examined on future missions.”
The scientists also discussed dust storms called “dust devils” that take place on Mars; these are eight meters wide and 20 km. high, leaving a long trail behind them. Sand dunes that are 200 meters high and have moved over the past three and a half years are another indication that Mars is an active planet, they said.
Concluding with a word of caution to explorers, Graf warned that while there may be life below the surface on Mars, it is more likely that we will bring life with us then finding it there. “If we find life, we want to make sure that we weren’t the ones to bring it there,” Graf concluded.
Meanwhile, the Italian Space Agency (AIS) has signed a memorandum of understanding with its Israeli counterpart to expand cooperation on observations of the Earth from space. The agreement on the project, which will be called SHALOM, was signed Monday at the residence of the Italian Ambassador to Israel Francesco Talo. The initial accord was signed in 2009.
The signatories were Menahem Kidron, the director of the Israel Space Agency, ISA chairman Prof. Isaac Ben-Israel and Roberto Battiston, president of AIS. The project will start functioning in 2021 using a hyper-spectral satellite for scientific and commercial uses.
Battiston said the “use of space technologies is vital to improve and ensure activities regarding environmental protection, the prevention of accidents [in space] and observations for supporting agriculture.”