Israel to sign NASA-led international Artemis Accords

NASA administrators, Israeli and US officials to attend Wednesday’s virtual signing ceremony of space cooperation agreement that “paves the way to new worlds.”

 The Artemis Accords. (photo credit: NASA)
The Artemis Accords.
(photo credit: NASA)

Israel is poised to sign the US-led Artemis Accords outlining best practices for space exploration, in a move that could “pave the way to new worlds,” according to one of the signatories.

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Brig.-Gen. (res.) Uri Oron, director-general of the Israel Space Agency (ISA), will sign the agreement at a virtual signing ceremony on Wednesday. NASA Administrator Sen. Bill Nelson and Israel’s Science and Technology Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen, as well as ambassadors from both Israel and the United States also will be taking part.

The Artemis Accords, seen as a milestone in the development of international space law and cooperation in space, have already been signed by 15 other space agencies, including those of the US, Australia, Canada, Italy, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and Japan. Neither China nor Russia is expected to join the agreement.

“We’re proud to be part of a very limited number of countries that are involved in Artemis,” Oron said of the signing. “Artemis is going to be the biggest-ever endeavor in space exploration.”

Oron spoke to The Media Line ahead of the ISA’s 17th Ilan Ramon International Space Conference, which took place on Tuesday as part of events marking Israel’s Space Week. The conference featured an array of distinguished speakers from countries including Israel, the US, the UAE and Canada. Ilan Ramon was the first Israeli astronaut, who died in 2003 when the Columbia space shuttle exploded during reentry upon its return to Earth.

“If you go back centuries ago, people like Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus paved the way to new worlds,” Oron said. “Artemis is one of those programs that will lead the way to the future. The world will enjoy the fruits of Artemis for decades.”

Initiated by NASA and the US Department of State, the Artemis Accords was established to cement a set of guidelines for best practices in exploration as well as the use of the moon, Mars and other space objects.

The international agreement aims to return humans to the moon by 2025 and establish a crewed lunar base there, while at the same time preparing for a historic human expedition to Mars in the 2030s. It also notably includes provisions regarding resource extraction and the possibility of private entities participating in mining activities alongside government agencies.

Oron said he expects Israel to increase its collaborative efforts with NASA in the coming months and years as a result of the accords.

“Eventually, we will be able to reach Mars and other places, and it will be because of programs such as Artemis,” Oron said. “Israel wants to be part of this huge endeavor for research, for technology as well as for commercial [purposes]. We want to see a space industry flourish in Israel because of programs like Artemis.”

But before humans can successfully establish a lunar base and send a manned mission to Mars, there are several not-so-small hurdles that need to be overcome. Among them are the issues of radiation, microgravity, astronaut health, isolation and communications.

Israel already has made contributions to life in space on several fronts. For example, Israeli startup StemRad has developed an anti-radiation vest known as the AstroRad that is currently in its final stages of testing aboard the International Space Station (ISS). NASA has already selected the suit for the Artemis lunar mission.

“Once we start going to Mars people will have to spend years in space, which raises a lot of questions and one of them is safety,” Maj. Gen. (ret.) Professor Isaac Ben-Israel, chairman of the ISA, told The Media Line. “While you’re in space you’re exposed to radiation; here on Earth the atmosphere filters it out.”

“Then there are problems like human food; you cannot carry food for a year or two-year flight so what do you do?” he added. “If you live on Mars, how do you grow your food? In all these aspects Israel has something” to offer.

Israel recently finalized 35 scientific experiments that are set to be performed by Israeli astronaut Eytan Stibbe as part of the Rakia Mission on the ISS, which is scheduled to take off on March 31. Stibbe will remain on the ISS for about a week. 

The experiments, which will be conducted in coordination with NASA and the European Space Agency, include projects that examine how to provide proper nutrition to astronauts, how to respond to disease in space and issues in agritech. In the food category, for example, Stibbe will research how the lack of gravity affects the production of cultured meat, using Israeli startup Aleph Farms’ patented technology.

“What we’re focused on now is not landing on Mars, but landing on the moon,” Ben-Israel noted. “Landing on the moon is going to happen very soon, within three years.”