Israel to NASA: Ready to Provide First Astronaut Since Columbia Disaster

Knesset Science and Technology Committee chair tells NASA delegation visiting Israel state wants to prepare successor to Ilan Ramon.

Israel would like to send another astronaut to participate in an expedition by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Benny Elon, chairman of the Knesset Science and Technology Committee, told members of a NASA delegation visiting Israel.

NASA astronauts Sunita Williams and Michael Lopez-Alegria, who were members of the agency's 14th expedition to the International Space Station (ISS), attended the committee's meeting yesterday commemorating five years since the fatal mission of Columbia, where the first Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon and six other crew members were killed in a re-entry accident over Texas on February 1, 2003.

The meeting was also attended by Ramon's widow, Rona, astronaut Gerhard Thiele, and NASA scientist Nagin Cox.

During their six-day visit, the NASA staff will take part in the third international conference on space in Herzliya, visit high schools, and meet with President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

They are also scheduled to visit Israel's universities and leading scientific institutions.

Science and Culture Minister Raleb Majadele said that the main national task facing the State of Israel is attracting some 3,500 Israeli-born scientists and researchers who left Israel to return, together with some 20,000 high-tech professionals living abroad.

The delegation is scheduled to visit Nazareth on Thursday, after attending the Ramon family's commemoration service.