With each passing day, it seems like a manned mission to Mars is becoming more of a reality. With each passing day, it seems like a manned mission to Mars is becoming more of a reality. With each passing day, it seems like a manned mission to Mars is becoming more of a reality. (Photo: NikoNomad / Shutterstock)

Which country just signed up to help NASA get to Mars?

A big announcement was made at an international space conference this week.

For the millions of fans of "The Martian" who have read the book or seen the highly acclaimed film, they know that (spoiler alert!) China comes to NASA's aid at the end of the movie to help rescue Matt Damon's astronaut after he spends four years stranded on Mars eating a strict diet of potatoes.

But in real life, it's another country that's signed up to help NASA on their mission to Mars. On Tuesday, Israel entered into a partnership with the U.S. space agency. The agreement opens the door for U.S. scientists to tap into the vast technological resources that Israel has to offer.

"Our two countries have had a long history of cooperation in space exploration, scientific discovery and research, and we look forward to the opportunities this new agreement provides us to build upon this partnership," NASA administrator Charles Bolden said from Israel, where he is attending a four-day international space conference. "You are known for your innovation and technology and this agreement gives us the opportunity to cooperate with Israel on the journey to Mars as we open up new opportunities for all of our children."

To insiders, it comes as no surprise that NASA and Israel are working together. The country is often referred to as the Silicon Valley of the Mediterranean. Indeed, there are more companies from Israel on the NASDAQ than from all of Europe. And the country is now ramping up its space ambitions as well. Just last week, Google announced that a group of engineers from Israel will become the first privately funded team to make a lunar landing. The team will become only the fourth country to ever land on the moon after the United States, Russia and China. Israel also just entered into a cooperative agreement with France's space agency to help build a new satellite that can better withstand extreme conditions outside Earth's orbit.

Israeli space technology is known for being extremely light in weight. It's an important factor to consider when planning trips to Mars, where conserving energy will be top of mind. NASA says it is also looking to Israel to help conduct joint missions, exchange personnel and scientific data and share facilities.

A manned mission to Mars seems to be taking on a new sense of urgency. Last month, NASA revealed that they had discovered water there and, this week, unveiled a detailed three-step plan for traveling to the Red Planet. Buzz Aldrin, the second person to walk on the moon, has written a new book about the topic and is currently on a worldwide tour advocating the merits of a mission to Mars.

"It is in our DNA, our makeup as human beings, to have a curiosity to expand our knowledge and to explore beyond the present limits," Aldrin told From The Grapevine. "It is an inevitable mark of progress." The legendary astronaut is currently in Israel for the announcement with NASA, and is also touring the country while he's there.

Legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin spent time touring Israel this week.Legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin spent time touring Israel this week. (Photo: Christina Korp)

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