By Meidad Pariente
Can you share something personal that isn’t written in your LinkedIn profile?
Well, there are many things that people don’t know about me. I don’t know how many people know about me at all. I have to be completely honest, and this is very personal. I rarely update my LinkedIn page. Recently we had this great conference at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, and we have a new student community called Space Gurion. And we had astronaut Eitan Stibbe over to speak. And my students were telling him, you know, she updated her CV in 2016. So Eitan answered, well, you still go to her classes, right? So she has other ways to communicate. I’m not a prominent social media activist. But I do appreciate the people who have the patience for it. I also have two kids, which are excellent. I have a 15-and-a-half-year-old son and a 12-and-a-half years old daughter. And my little girl is part of why I started with the She Space program.
Let’s discuss your role as an UN-SPIDER expert and head of the Israeli Regional Support Office. How can we use space-based information for disaster monitoring?
Okay, so UN-SPIDER is an acronym. It’s really “catchy.” I will take a long breath to say it all. SPIDER is Space-based Platform Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response. What I tell most people is just remember I’m Spider Woman, and you’re good. This is the UN entity that is responsible for everything that is related to disaster management from space. And when we’re talking about disaster management and how it’s used, it’s, first of all, you have to understand there are several stages to the disaster and how satellite technology could be involved in all of the different stages. When we’re talking about disaster, it usually affects human life, and this is what’s the most concerning to everybody. When you have disasters, such as an earthquake, tsunami, volcanic eruption, or a really large dust event, if we’re looking at the disaster management cycle, the first thing that everybody will usually do is respond to that immediate threat. After that, in the cycle, you will have the recovery of the area. And after that, the prevention and mitigation, and at the last stage, We could start talking about preparedness. But that’s the optimum. So in each stage, if we break it down, the immediate response is intuitive and clear to most people. And that’s how we use Geospatial intelligence for rapid mapping. How could we take the images and map the area and see the extent and the impact of what happened? For example, In February 2023, we had a deadly earthquake in Turkey and Syria. So talking about the immediate response is not just about the forces that are sent to the ground. We have to support those forces with data from satellites and tell them this isn’t the map of the area. We get the images, map the area quickly, and send the forces to where they can save lives. And this is very important, especially when the event is significant and extended.
What most people need to understand is that diversity is not a women’s problem. It’s not just a matter of will, it’s a matter of support, it’s the matter of where you grew up, it’s a matter of culture. When one understands that, it affects the entire society. Diversity increases productivity. We get more ways of thinking, more perspectives, and different aspects to solving the problem, then they are all engaged also to solve this problem.
She Space International program is a huge success, with institutes from Ivory Coast, Brazil, Peru, South Korea, Spain, Togo, USA, and Israel. What is the future you foresee for this fantastic endeavor?
It started with me being the only woman scientist working on BGUSAT. Back at the time, my daughter was about four years old. In my university role as the director of The Earth and Planetary Image Facility and also on the board of The Ramon Foundation, I bring over at least one astronaut to visit the University each year. We hold an entire day in memory of Ilan Ramon, Asaf Ramon, and, later on, Rona Ramon. And it just turned out that we had no female astronauts for many years. My daughter asked me, “Oh, Mommy, how come you don’t have any female friends?” As it was in Hebrew, it took me a while to understand because of the use of gender words. It was a bit different. So I asked, “What do you mean? ” and told everybody in the lab that she asked me that, and we had a whole discussion about me being the only woman scientist. Every time we have an outreach program in the lab, we get 18 boys and two girls. So we were discussing this for a while, and I said, “You know what? I’m going to make my daughter happy, I’m going to bring her a female astronaut.” And said this year’s conference will be themed “Women in Space.” And this was back in 2016. So we decided to find some women that are very highly ranked in Israel and put together a list of really great women that came over, and also brought astronaut Shannon Walker over for this conference. And she was incredible. We had my daughter present her with a gift from Ben Gurion University on behalf of the future generation. Following that event, we had a lot of discussions in the lab, and we contemplated how we could increase the visibility of women and the participation of women in our programs and how we could get more women engaged. We discussed ways to do so, and we decided to name our program She Space and thought closing it to women would only be a great motivation and encouragement for the girls to participate. This was an issue of debate because I was worried that out of 20, only two girls would enlist, and I would have a hard time recruiting the girls. We decided just to do it. We launched the program and put this great post on Facebook. We went to a few schools to tell them, ”Do you want to work with us? just come to the lab, and work with us.” We didn’t want to be very specific about its relation to satellites. We told them we would have fun, but we just didn’t want to go into the hardcore of science not to scare anybody off. And guess what? we had 80 Girls apply for the program! This is when we realized that we were doing something different. And because we’re scientists, we started researching that topic. I need to note that we did not, at any stage of the program, talk about gender issues. We just did everything as we regularly do. We realized that we must understand why this motivated the girls and why a gender-separated group would motivate the girls to participate. We understood that girls have different learning styles, and they need a justification for the scientific problem (and not just solving it – m.p.), and that’s how we tailor-made this program for the learning needs of high school girls. We motivate them to learn to study and investigate something very close to their heart from the scientific point of view, using satellite technology, and that’s climate change. So in each of the countries (that participate in the She Space International Program – m.p.), what we do is that we have the girls study a climate change question within their political borders, using their local satellite technology. And then what they do is compare the results with one another, so they get this excellent global perspective of what’s happening worldwide because Brazil’s wildfires directly affect them! and they see the connections and different satellite technologies. And even, what do you do with countries that don’t have their satellites? This is where the international component is really important and where the collaboration kicks in. And this is where UN SDG 17 (Sustainable Development Goal 17) becomes understandable. So they get a nice view of everything. They get to do hands-on science, operate satellites, talk to the forefront of engineers and scientists, and use state-of-the-art technology. It’s an excellent program.
After the first year, I was called to the UN to give a talk on International Women and Girls’ Day in Science (Feb.11th). And we also launched the site of an excellent program with the help of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Israeli Space Agency, along with UNOOSA, called Space4Women, and this program just grew and grew. By the way, Israel supports this program a lot, not just financially but also very actively. In 2024, we will be hosting the Space4Women expert meeting. And so we’ve been called up to the United Nations and working on all age groups because basically, you have to start from the youth till they’re mature and support the entire process. My colleagues that saw my talk at the United Nations said, let’s collaborate. We do science overseas. We have done this for years. Let’s make the program International. So we started with Germany, Brazil, the United States, and Israel. And we just grew and grew. And it’s incredible to see how girls from South Korea interact with girls from the United States, Switzerland, and Nigeria. Even though It’s different age groups, everybody has this common language of science, technology, and space. It becomes really lovely to see how we could overcome so many barriers with one project.
Shoutout time: which Israeli women working in the space industry and academia should we follow?
Our audience here is unfamiliar with it, but we also established a community in Israel, an association. It’s called WiSpace – Women In Space, and just to name a few, we have over 250 members in our group. So the next time somebody says there need to be more women that could participate in a conference, point them in our direction. We’re just going to name so many talented and gifted women. I was going to start reading the names, there are so many. And we also have incredible women in international roles, like Dr. Deganit Paikowsky, the former vice president of the International Astronautical Federation. We also have very senior people like Keren Shahar, Senior Deputy Legal Adviser at the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that promotes space and also had an international role at COPOUS. Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. So many gifted and unique women. I don’t feel comfortable talking about Maya because we are already exposed here that we have a “shared child” (A graduate of She Space that was the social media manager of SPACECIALIST). There are just so many talented women. We try to highlight these women as much as possible in international conferences and in conferences in Israel. Sometimes you just have to know where to look. So if you’re looking for \great Israeli women speaker, we have a great pool.
What do you think the Israeli space industry will look like in 2050?
I am a big fan of the Israeli space industry, and it’s always innovative. This is within our DNA, this and, you know, thinking, talking about diversity just a few minutes ago, this is one of the reasons that Israel is so innovative because of that diversity. And because we have so many people gathered together from different backgrounds, working in the same place where you are exposed to different perspectives and innovative ideas that yield up in all these great startup companies. I see it increasing, and I hope to see, even before 2050, the first Israeli female astronaut. Maybe Dr. Reut Sorek Abramovich, which I know was a guest in a space Cafe a while back. She is a great candidate for that as well.
Dr. Shimrit Maman is a senior scientist at the Homeland Security Institute and director of the Earth and Planetary Image Facility (EPIF), both at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Her research applies satellite technologies (remote sensing, GIS, OSINT) to environmental challenges and climate change. She is an integral part of the research team leading BGUSAT, Israel’s first research nanosatellite.
She is also an UN-SPIDER expert and heads the Israeli Regional Support Office of the United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response.
Previously she served as the board director of D-Mars and is a founding board member of WiSpace, a women’s association promoting gender equity among Israeli STEM professionals and was appointed by UNOOSA as a mentor in the SPACE4WOMEN Network. Currently on the board of directors of the Ramon Foundation.
Maman leads diverse education and outreach programs promoting Science, Technology, Engineering Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM). She uses hands-on research activities nationally and internationally, including the unique, all-girl, international remote sensing science program: She Space.