At a space conference conducted by the Yuval Neeman Center for Science, Technology and Security last week, participants discussed ambitious plans for space programs. NASA intends to explore different planets, the Europeans are launching Satellites, and there are even a few young Israelis who are planning to land on the moon. One common theme for all participants, however, was the economic problem
“In February, we will launch the R2, the first satellite to be sent to Mercury. In August of 2012 we will launch a satellite the size of a small car, which will examine if life exists or is even a possibility on Mars. In 2015 we will send a robot to Pluto and later, mankind will arrive on the planet”, tells Laurie Garber, the Deputy Director of NASA, of the American’s space program for the coming years.
“You are, of course, aware of the discussion on space flight”, continued Garber. “We are in a good place. Just 20 years ago, the discussion revolved around the question of whether it is necessary to research space”.
Throughout the conference, participants continually raised the issue of economic investment entangled in space research. “Given the international economic situation today, we face many challenges”, says Garber. “We can compare this to a plane: cutting off funding for space research is like cutting off the plane’s engines. At the beginning it may seem fine, but later, you must carry the effects”.
“I am not embarrassed”, says Dr. David Satood, director of scientific and robotic research the European Space Agency, referring to the “Herschel” Satellite. “People tell me ‘you could have built hospitals with that kind of money’. That’s correct, but it’s still 50 cents from every European citizen. That is not that much in my eyes, on the condition that the findings change your perception of the world”.
The Americans and the Europeans aren’t the only ones with economic constraints, says Professor Chaim Eshed, head of the Space Department in the Israeli Security Office. Israeli Researchers also confront these considerations. “Israel is a small country with a small budget. Everything we have done up till now in the field of space research, we have done through the defense budget. Meanwhile, the Space department has decided which way to turn as it continues to operate”, said professor Eshed in his interview with air force website: “so far we have had amazing achievements. First of all, in remote sensing technologies throughout all areas, and in the field of communication satellites with regards to the performance to weight ratio. We are among the world’s leaders in this area. We intend to continue our efforts towards miniaturization. On the other hand, we are considering the possibility of focusing on larger satellites, and concurrently on developing other special efforts. Israel excels in nonconventional thinking. We are proposing to NASA to join in on their ‘vision’ missions”.
Regarding the satellite ‘Ofek 9’, that was launched last year, professor Eshed was entirely complimentary. “The Satellite is wonderful. We are always becoming more sophisticated. US officials even expressed interest in the Satellite”.
And, it is possible that in the future, more Israelis will make it to Space. A group of young entrepreneurs called “IsraellL” presented at the conference, aiming high – at the moon.
The group is joined by 14 other groups from around the world, competing for a total of 30 million dollars. If everything goes well, the group will launch a satellite to land on the moon at the end of 2012 and will transmit images taken upon landing.
“We are hoping to promote science education in Israel through our efforts”, said one of the entrepreneurs, Yonatan Weintraub. “We see this as a national effort”.