Shortly after its inception in 1983, the Israel Space
Agency (ISA) has had a mutually-beneficial relationship with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space
Administration (NASA). The two agencies' cooperative research efforts blossomed to the point where the first
Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon, launched into space on an American shuttle.
NASA and ISA officially began to work together in 1985, as the Institute of
Petroleum Research and Geophysics in Israel was contracted to operate a
NASA-furnished MOBLAS-2 mobile satellite laser ranging (SLR) station at the
Bar-Giora Geophysical Satellite Observatory. This SLR tracked a complement of retroreflector satellites and
provided data to measure tectonic plate and regional fault motion, polar motion and earth rotation. The project
was renewed in 1990 and operated for another four years until it was discontinued due to
In 1986, NASA and ISA signed a general agreement to
exchange existing scientific and technical information. The U.S. agreed to
give Israel information such as NASA aerospace and technical reports while Israel, in turn, would give NASA scientific reports and working papers in
areas such as aeronautics, astronautics, chemistry, engineering,
mathematics and computer sciences.
Since 1992, NASA and the J. Blaustein Institute for
Desert Research at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) have collaborated
on the AERONET program, a study of the relation between atmospheric and
surface properties in desert transition areas. NASA provides equipment,
specifically sunphotometers and radiometers, to its Israeli counterpart and BGU scientists then monitor aerosol
and surface spectral properties and conduct short experiments that relate
these measurements to space observations. Aerosols are a type of pollution and
AERONET is beneficial to scientists worldwide who are trying to develop
ways to curb air pollution.
Also in 1992, NASA launched the Space Shuttle Endeavor (STS-47) on which the flight hardware was
built by Israel Aircraft Industries, Ltd. (IAI) with the support of ISA.
Early in 1996, NASA and ISA concluded an agreement
for the provision of a permanent Global Positioning System (GPS) ground
station, which would provide a critical reference point for measurements of
motion over the Mediterranean and Middle East regions.
On October 2, 1996, NASA and ISA signed an umbrella
agreement "for cooperation in the peaceful use of space." The
agreement says that NASA and ISA will work closely to develop cooperative
programs of mutual interest in the use of space for research and practical
Since 1997, NASA and the Israel Meteorological Service
of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in conjunction with ISA, have cooperated
on the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Ground Validation
Program. In this program, a satellite measures tropical rain and transmits
the data to a ground validation system that ensures that the data is
valid. A ground validation site is located at Hebrew University and
a researcher from Hebrew University is a TRMM Science Team Member.
In 1998, two Israeli microgravity life science
experiments were flown on the NASA Space Shuttle Columbia.
The first experiment studied the early development of mice embryos in
microgravity. The second investigated the growth of osteoblast cells
in a microgravity environment.
In June 1999, NASA and ISA signed an agreement to share
information through NASAs Earth Observation System Data Information
System (EOSDIS), making Israel the 10th country hooked up to the line.
ISA established an EOSDIS node, to be maintained by the Inter-University
Computation Center (IUCC) at Tel-Aviv University, that provides
an interface between EOSDIS and ISAs Earth science and environmental
observation data and information system.
In July 1999, U.S. President Bill Clinton and Israeli
Prime Minister Ehud Barak agreed to establish a committee made up of representatives of NASA and the
ISA for the "development of practical applications in the peaceful use
In October 1999, Ben-Gurion University researchers
joined an international project to map the earth sponsored by NASA,
the German space agency DARA and the Italian Space Agency ASI.
In January 2003, former Israeli fighter-pilot Ilan Ramon became the first Israeli astronaut in space when he launched as part of the crew aboard the NASA Space Shuttle Columbia. During the flight, Ramon conducted a number
of experiments including one designed to assess the
efficacy of probiotic bacteria in strengthening the immune system, digestion,
and calcium balance of astronauts in space. Another experiment, designed by scientists from the Israel Aerospace
Medicine Institute in Jerusalem and the Johnson Space Center in Houston,
investigated a theory that living organism are in meteors traveling
between planets. Sadly, however, the shuttle exploded in the Earth's atmosphere during its re-entry phase just minutes before scheduled landing - Ramon and the entire crew were instantly killed.
In January 2010, NASA and the ISA signed a joint declaration that made Israel a member of the NASA Center for Moon Research and promoted cooperation between the two agencies. The agreement also recognized the Israel Network for Lunar Science and Exploration (INLSE) and establishes the country as a part of an international effort to study the moon and the solar system. Talks stemming from the January declaration culminated in the August 2010 signing of a formal cooperation pact between NASA and ISA. The memorandum of understanding's main stated intention is to expand the exchange of information and provide inspiration for the next generation of researchers, scientists and engineers. NASA, however, is particularly interested in Israeli expertise in producing lightweight satellites that can be launched from aircraft.
In May 2011, NASA's final space shuttle mission included three Israeli experiments to examine the impact of space travel on human health among various studies and tests conducted on board. Material from two of the experiments returned to earth with Endeavor on June 1, 2011, while the third was left on the International Space Station to be retrieved by astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis, on July 20, 2011. The material from the third experiment currently on the space station will gauge the effects of cosmic rays on telomeres, a part of cell chromosomes that regulate the life of the cell, and marks the first time an Israeli experiment has been sent to the International Space Station.
In November 2011, NASA launched its "Curiosity" rover to Mars that included an Israeli-manufactured refrigerator. Ricor Cryogenic and Vacuum Systems, based in the Israeli Kibbutz Ein Harod, specialize in cryogenic coolers, or "cryocoolers," and their work ensured that parts of the rover remain at the necessary -173 degrees Celsius. In addition, to help develop the "Curiosity" rover and ensure that it could withstand the harsh elements of the Martian atmosphere, NASA used product lifecycle management (PLM) software developed by Siemens in Israel.
During the 2015 International Astronautical Conference (IAC), held in Jerusalem, the Israel Space Agency (ISA) and NASA announced a partnership, “in the exploration and research of space for the betterment of mankind and for peaceful use.” According to officials from both organizations, the partnership will focus on, “joint missions, personnel and scientific data exchanges, ground-based research facilities, space exploration and operations missions, joint workshops and meetings, scientific instruments onboard aircraft and spacecraft, sounding rocket and scientific balloon flights, space communications, educational outreach, and other spacecraft and space research platforms.”