First Israeli Astronaut To Blast Off With NASA's Help Next Year

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israeli cooperation with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration is set to take a step forward when Israel sends its first astronaut into outer space next year, according to a statement released in Jerusalem.

US NASA Administrator Dan Goldin, visiting Israel as a guest of the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Science, Culture and Sport Minister Matan Vilnai on Monday in order to promote and enhance cooperation between NASA and its Israeli counterpart the Israeli Space Agency.

As a result of that meeting Israel is scheduled to send its first astronaut into space next May 23.

Global climatic change, water and earthquake research are areas in which Israel will contribute its expertise in its joint cooperation with NASA, a statement from the Prime Minister's office said.

"Israel has been working with NASA for many years," said Moshe Fogel Deputy Director General for International Relations and Information of the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport on Tuesday.

Now Israel will be sending its first astronaut into space, with a specially designed experiment to measure the affects of dust on climate control and the spread of desertification, Fogel said by telephone.

Ilan Ramon, Israel's first astronaut-to-be, is an Israeli Air Force pilot. Col. Ramon has already undergone extensive training at NASA and will continue during the coming year to prepare him to be a crewmember next spring.

In connection with the journey of its first astronaut, Israel will also launch an extensive program of educational and scientific projects for high school students in the field of space research as recommended by Goldin, Fogel added.

In honor of Ramon's first flight, Vilnai will propose that the cabinet declare the year 2002, "Israeli space year."

Although ISA's manpower and funding can't compare with NASA's 19,000 employees and $15 billion a year budget, still the projects are jointly funded, Fogel said.

"It's joint cooperation [and] everybody benefits," he added.

Director General of ISA, Aby Har-Even, said that the experiment, which Ramon will manage in space, will be part of Israel's contribution to international research on global warming.

Israel has developed a special camera that can measure the dust clouds over the Mediterranean Sea, that have a great effect on the atmosphere of the earth and global warming, Har-Even said.

Those dust clouds are being blamed for several years of extreme drought that the Middle East is experiencing.

In his meeting with Goldin, Sharon said that he would attempt to mobilize the necessary resources to consolidate Israeli-NASA cooperation.

Goldin, who has visited Israel many times during the last 10 years, said that in light of that pending increased cooperation, Israel may be integrated into the European space center, which would enable it to become one of the countries that participates in the international space station.

According to the statement from the prime minister's office, Sharon views Israel's integration in NASA's research and development plans as "critically important."

He said it would "constitute a considerable leap forward in utilizing Israel's scientific and technological potential, including the creation of a major source of exports in the future."