Exactly thirteen years after the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, in which Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon died along with six other crew members, the remnants of the experiment Ramon conducted in space have been returned to Israel.
The Mediterranean Israeli Dust Experiment (MEIDEX) was designed to study desert dust storms and how they affect the climate.
The materials are being exhibited as part of Israel Space Week, and NASA has sent a number of astronauts to participate in the event.
The remnants of the experiment were brought to Israel partly in response to a request from Ramon’s widow, Rona, who is head of the Ramon Foundation, an educational organization she established after the deaths of her husband Ilan and son Asaf.
She requested that the materials be brought to Israel for the first time, to allow young people in Israel to be exposed to the world of research science in space.
The materials were unveiled during a ceremony at the 11th Ilan Ramon International Space Conference on Tuesday, attended by Mrs. Ramon, Science Minister Ofer Akunis, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, and others.
After the Columbia disaster on February 1, 2003 – when the space shuttle disintegrated over Texas and Louisiana as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere – NASA began collecting and identifying the remnants of the shuttle, with the public’s help.
Among the items found were the camera Ramon had used for the experiment, along with its control system, camera lenses, supports, recording device and other electronic items.
The MEIDEX experiment was planned by scientists from the Department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences at Tel Aviv University, and was performed by Ramon onboard the space shuttle. An Israeli-U.S. collaboration, it was part of the program to send an Israeli astronaut on a NASA space shuttle.
More than 80 percent of the results of the Israeli experiments conducted on Columbia were successfully relayed to Earth prior to the spacecraft’s disintegration.
The experiments yielded a number of important scientific results and findings. Photographs taken by Ramon, for example, provided initial proof that dust inhibits the development of clouds.
Another experiment conducted using the MEIDEX camera yielded unique photographs of lightning storms. The Columbia crew was asked to document “sprites” – an electromagnetic phenomenon that occurs at high altitudes. The experiment contained ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared array-detector cameras and was launched onboard the shuttle to obtain calibrated images of desert and transported pollution aerosols over land and sea.
The experiment was designed to provide sound scientific information about atmospheric aerosols.
In the second week of Columbia’s mission (January 16-February 1), fierce storms raged over the Atlantic Ocean. In nine orbits, the astronauts photographed and recorded dust plumes moving westward from Africa.
The results of the experiments continue to provide data for scientific research to this day.