Crimped by a shoestring budget, a costly war and an economic crisis, Israel’s small but spunky space program is about to take a giant leap forward by sending its first astronaut aloft.

The Israel Space Agency (ISA) will be in the limelight when Colonel Ilan Ramon takes off with the next NASA shuttle mission, probably in September. But ISA has been quietly working for years on state-of-the-art space technology.