A Date With a Meteorite at Tel Aviv Port

'Space Mania: The Sky Is Not the Limit' is latest big exhibit mounted by producer Zeev Isaac, following 'Age of the Dinosaur'’ and 'Van Gogh Alive.'

In the absence of actual aliens (at least any who might be willing to identify themselves in public), the meteorite fragments that landed here — for example, those from Mars, the moon and from asteroids — provide an answer to why human beings are so attracted to what comes from space, and so daunted by them at the same time.

The space exhibit currently on display at Hangar 11 at the Tel Aviv Port, titled “Space Mania: The Sky Is Not the Limit,” has a special area showing the dangers of space. Several remnants of celestial bodies that did not turn to dust or burn up in the atmosphere are on display there, labeled as meteorites.

Some think that the Black Stone enshrined at the Kaaba in Mecca, where Muslims face when they worship, is a meteorite. Although this has never been proven, it has an echo in Muslim tradition, which says that the stone came from a divine, celestial source. This fascinating overlap between “faith” and “science” is just one example of the many faces of mankind’s curiosity about what comes to us from above.

Several tiny pieces of a meteorite from Mars are exhibited behind glass at Hangar 11. Nearby is a round pallasite meteorite that weighs about 750 kilograms. The meteorite, which includes (as the explanatory text nearby says) “a silicate mineral comprised of magnesium and iron,” entered the atmosphere at an angle that created minimal friction, enabling it to survive. The exhibit includes two other celestial celebrities as well: a fragment found in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk that came from an asteroid last February, and a lunar meteorite that broke off the moon’s surface during a collision with an asteroid. The lunar meteorite is treated almost like a religious relic. Although it is in a closed glass case, a special opening in the glass allows visitors to touch it with a finger.

While the meteorite display is not the main part of the exhibit, it’s good that it’s part of it. Alongside actual-size (or rendered to scale) samples of the command module of the Russian space station Mir, as well as the cockpit of the American space shuttle, the work unit of the International Space Shuttle, and space suits, the meteorite exhibit is special in that it does not revolve around people.

One of the dozens of informative posters at the exhibit describes the heliocentric model by Copernicus, according to which “the sun is at the center and the planets revolve around it.” But when we talk about “conquering” space, it seems that humanity is still stuck in the geocentric (or, more precisely, the egocentric) model, and has a hard time turning its gaze on anything but itself.

Space Mania was conceived by Zeev Isaac, the veteran impresario and owner of the company that runs Hangar 11. In the past, he brought stars such as Mercedes Sosa, Madonna and Eric Clapton to Israel. Once he understood that enormous exhibits had a great amount of potential, he also brought in large-scale displays such as “Age of the Dinosaurs” and “Van Gogh Alive.” He produced “Space Mania” himself.

The dream and the race

For the exhibit, the large space of Hangar 11 is divided into three parts: a historical entrance hall, a main space with exhibits and an area for shopping and play. The corridors that lead from the main entrance are filled with posters and photographs that try to sum up two periods: the one in which people dreamed of space and came up with theories about it, and the period in which they left Earth to engage in the space race. The idea of summing up these two periods is worthy of note, even if not all the visitors arrive with enough inner space and time available to read all the texts.

The large main exhibit area is full of surprises. The displays there are mostly faithful reproductions organized by subject, from the race to the moon to communications satellites to the space station to plans for the future.

Unlike the dizzying statistics about the amount of fuel the Saturn rocket burned per second and the dramas that took place in the Apollo command module during several of its flights, the food exhibit at the other end of the space looks almost trivial at first. Yet the dried, preserved food, which is packed in vacuum bags after all the liquids have been removed, arouses a good deal of curiosity precisely because it represents an aspect of day-to-day nutrition in space. The nearby Coca-Cola installation was developed “courtesy” of the beverage giant. But fizzy drinks cannot be served in space, which may be the reason why the installation was never put into use. Flat soda leaves a bad taste in the mouth, almost like aggressive free advertising.

A special section of the exhibit is dedicated to commemorating the work of Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut, who was killed with Columbia’s crew when the shuttle disintegrated during re-entry in 2003. The final piece in the exhibit is the model of a capsule that is supposed to enable human beings to set foot on celestial bodies such as the moon and Mars. Although the model that was sent to Israel was created by Boeing, Isaac says that Lockheed-Martin won the tender to construct the capsule for NASA. It’s good to remember that the space race always starts with a battle right here on Earth.

Daniel Tchetchik
Daniel Tchetchik