Astronautical Congress thrills Israel

Intelligent life on other planets not out of the realm of possibility.

Russian cosmonauts stand proud (photo credit: GIL ZOHAR)
Russian cosmonauts stand proud
(photo credit: GIL ZOHAR)
Anyone who has ever doubted Israel’s stellar position in global hi-tech needed only visit the 66th annual International Astronautical Congress that wrapped up in the capital on October 16.
More than 2,000 scientists, academics, astronomers, educators, engineers, space salesmen and general geeks – among them legendary retired astronaut Buzz Aldrin, a veteran of the Apollo XI lunar mission that landed on the moon on July 20, 1969 – packed the Jerusalem International Convention Center for the five-day multidisciplinary space confab, which was supported by the Israel Space Agency and the Science, Technology and Space Ministry.
Founded in 1951 following German scientist Werner von Braun’s breakthrough in launching the Nazi V2 rocket, the International Astronautical Federation aims to foster dialogue between scientists around the world and support international cooperation in all space-related activities.
When established in the aftermath of World War II, the US, the Soviet Union and their former allies were moving in very different directions, each striving to establish military dominance. In the tense Cold War atmosphere, scientists found themselves in an increasingly polarized world, where most of the dialogue between the rival superpowers was closing down.
Thus in 1951, six years after the Iron Curtain descended, scientists from the field of space research created the IAF in an attempt to reestablish that dialogue.
In its early years, the federation and its annual congress were one of few forums where East and West could meet during the space race.
The IAF is the world-leading space advocacy body, with 300 members, including all key space agencies, companies, societies, associations and institutes across 62 countries. More than 40 administrative and technical committees support it in its mission to advance knowledge about space, and to foster the development of space assets by facilitating global cooperation.
Among those attending this year’s congress was Lori Walton, a geologist and space hobbyist from Edmonton, Canada, who delivered an address about the current status of the scientific search for intelligent life in the universe and potential detection of extraterrestrial civilizations.
“When the International Academy of Astronautics’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Committee was formally established in 1974, the concept of finding life in the universe, let alone intelligent life, was academic,” she began.
“In the following decades, humanity has viewed a diversity of worlds via images and data sent back by probes examining our solar system. A staggering number of exoplanets have been identified and through biological studies on the origin of life and examination of all life on earth, it is now recognized that life can live in extreme environments.
“Searching for biosignatures on other worlds is moving forward and with it is a general awareness that technosignatures indicating intelligent life may be detected.”
Walton was at the Jerusalem International Convention Center last week when a terrorist attacked bystanders at the nearby central bus station. She heard the shots that liquidated the attacker, and was rushed back inside the building by security personnel for safety until the police declared an all-clear.
Nevertheless, attending the IAC and visiting Israel were “beyond words,” Walton enthused. “Seeing 2,000-year-old archeological ruins in the convention center at the same time that Buzz Aldrin was in the building was inspiring.
Viewing the aerospace technology on display there, then touring Israel’s historical sites, was truly unique.”