Israel Space Agency chairman Yitzhak Ben Israel said on Wednesday that talks are underway about training a new Israeli astronaut, 10 years after the death of Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut. The topic came up at the eighth annual International Space Conference this week in Herzliya, during unofficial talks between space agency representatives in the Science and Technology Ministry and more than a dozen senior officials representing space agencies from around the world.
The Science and Technology Ministry stated that initial talks with international bodies were recently begun to look into the possibility and implications of training an Israeli astronaut. But the identification and training of candidates may take several years. Identifying Ilan Ramon took two years, followed by another four years of training until Ramon was ready to go into space.
In July 2011, NASA (U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration) announced it would no longer be launching manned space shuttles. At present, astronauts are being sent into space only to staff the international space research station, which orbits earth and is expected to be in operation at least until 2020. It is operated by astronauts from different countries. The Israel Space Agency made it clear that once space agencies around the world give the go-ahead, the process of identifying the next Israeli astronaut will begin and he or she will starting training for a mission on the space station.
At the space conference, Menachem Greenblum, director-general of the Science and Technology Ministry, and Dr. Paul Weisenberg, deputy director-general for development and industry at the European Commission, signed an agreement of cooperation for several space projects, including research budgets and integrating Israel into Horizon 2020, the EC’s seven-year program.
At the conference, Dr. Mazlan Othman, director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, called for Israel to join the international conference for using space for peaceful ends. Currently, Israel is an observer at the conference. Science ministry representatives proposed that Othman place a model of an Israeli satellite at the permanent space exhibition at the UN office’s headquarters in Vienna. The exhibition displays satellite models and rocks from space.
Israel’s community of space scientists is pinning its hopes on the next Israeli astronaut after the disaster in which Ramon was killed on February 1, 2003, when the Columbia space shuttle disintegrated during reentry into the earth’s atmosphere.