Dec 07, 2021

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US astronaut Dr. Jessica Meir – the fourth Jewish woman and 15th Jewish person ever to travel to space – spoke this week by live broadcast to the Tel Aviv University (TAU) board of governors. 

Born to a Swedish mother and an Israeli father who grew up in Tel Aviv, Meir has always felt close to Israel. During her virtual presentation to the symposium, Meir spoke of her connection to this country and displayed several images of the country captured from outer space. 


“Israel is a very important part of me,” she said, also describing the personal items she brought to the International Space Station including an Israeli flag, Hanukkah socks bearing Stars of David and menorahs, along with a commemorative coin honoring late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. Meir. 


“We have to work together to truly preserve our planet for the future,” said Meir, who is a marine biologist and physiologist. She spoke to the Yehiel Ben-Zvi academic symposium entitled “Between Climate Change, Space Research and Life under Extreme Conditions,” held on the TAU campus. This year’s symposium topic highlights TAU’s prioritization of climate change research. As part of this campus-wide effort, TAU launched the Center for Climate Change Action in June of this year. 


This multidisciplinary center aims to help find solutions to the global crisis. The first of its kind in Israel, it will investigate the subject from all angles, drawing on the knowledge and resources of all faculties on campus. The center will collaborate with partners from industry, academia and government in Israel and abroad to develop technological solutions, raise public awareness, promote environmental legislation and policy and more.  


The NASA astronaut discussing her missions to space, life under extreme environmental conditions and the relationship between her research and combating climate change.


“We take a lot of photographs from the space station that can be used by scientists on the ground to see things like our changing planet,” she said from her workplace in Houston, Texas. “By looking at things like the retreat of glaciers from the space station, at the same vantage point from which we’ve looked at for decades, scientists can make measurements and understand what’s going on with the ever-pressing battle with climate change.” 


Answering a question from the crowd, Meir elaborated on the impact of space research on climate change. “I’ve been an avid environmentalist since well before I got to space and I assumed it would resonate even more loudly once there – and it really did. You can\t avoid seeing how fragile it is, how special it is and how we need to protect it. You don’t see borders from space, at least the ones we’ve imposed upon ourselves. We have to do what we can and work together to truly preserve our planet for the future.” 


In 2013, NASA selected Meir to join its highly selective astronaut program. During her first space mission in 2019, Meir and fellow NASA astronaut Christina Koch made history when they completed the first all-woman spacewalk. Meir has to date participated in three space missions and spent a total of 205 days in space. Among her many honors, Time Magazine named Meir as one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2020.


“I want to dedicate this talk and our time today to the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia, and, of course, Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli in space who was part of this mission,” she said of the tragic 2003 accident in which all seven crew members perished. 


In addition to Meir, Israel’s Minister of Environmental Protection and TAU alumna Tamar Zandberg spoke and said”: “Addressing the diverse challenges of climate change will require more than national policy. It will require unprecedented collaboration across sectors and regions. It will also require joint, advanced research and studies. Space technologies can help in tackling major climate problems.”


TAU rector Prof. Mark Shtaif chaired the symposium, which was moderated by Prof. Colin Price, head of the environmental studies department in the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences. The symposium is held in memory of Yehiel Ben-Zvi, a former TAU vice president.


“There are many challenges, but also many opportunities to help us forge a more sustainable planet and have a cleaner, more just world for our children and grandchildren,” said Price. He explained that TAU’s efforts to combine space research and climate research include the multidisciplinary advances at TAU’s Center for Nano-Satellites and New Space, the Minerva Dead Sea Research Center and the Center for Climate Change Action.