|Planet Earth viewed from space 311.(Photo by: Thinkstock/Imagebank)|
Israeli group reaches for the stars – and $30m.
By GREER FAY CASHMAN
Peres on hand at unveiling of Space IL’s plan to send unmanned vehicle to the moon.
A group of three Israelis is taking aim at the moon.
Industries on Thursday officially launched the Space IL project, which is
competing for the Google LunarX Prize aimed at generating interest among space
explorers in safely landing an unmanned vehicle on the surface of the
Space IL, conceived a year ago, is the brainchild of three young
engineers, Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub, and operates as a
Aside from creating a vehicle to reach the
moon, the team’s main purpose is to encourage and advance scientific
The end target is to make Israel a global leader in space
At the event on Thursday, a mockup of the spacecraft was
revealed. If the team succeeds, Israel will be the third nation to land on the
moon, after the United States and Russia. Several other nations have sent
vehicles which crash landed on the surface of the moon, but none have yet
emulated the successes of the initial moon exploration
President Shimon Peres was on hand to launch the project, and
to inscribe a message to be sent along with the unmanned aircraft.
was accompanied to the launch ceremony by Rona Ramon, the widow of astronaut
Ilan Ramon. Ilan, Israel’s first astronaut, was on the illfated 2003 Columbia
space ship that exploded on its return journey to earth, shortly before it was
due to land.
Rona has maintained contact with both NASA – where he
trained – and with the Israel Space Agency, often acting as a liaison between
the two organizations.
At the ceremony, Ramon said that her husband had
been Israel’s pioneer into space, and that this project is a continuation of his
The project poses yet another challenge for Israel, and gives
expression not only to a sense of heritage but also to a great sense of mission,
and to the standards of the quality team of which Ilan Ramon was a
Ilan Ramon took with him to outer space a microfiche copy of the
Torah, a miniature Torah Scroll rescued from the Holocaust, a barbed wire mezuza
that was also a Holocaust relic, a dollar bill that had once been in the hand of
the Lubavitcher Rebbe and a work of art, Moon Landscape, by Petr Ginz, a
14-year-old who was killed in Auschwitz.
Like Ilan Ramon, Peres, in
sending a message to the moon, embraced Israel’s most ancient source – the
Bible. Taking his inspiration from the first chapter of Genesis, Peres inscribed
the verse “...and let them be lights in the firmament of heaven to give light
upon the earth” on a piece of parchment. The text was written in
Peres met with the initiators of the project and with the young
Israeli scientists who are working on it. From them he received a comprehensive
briefing on the engineering and construction process of the
In his subsequent address, Peres lauded all those who are
involved in putting Israel on the international space exploration
“Inasmuch as Israel is a leader in technology,” he said, “technology
may lead Israel to even greater heights.” Technology, Peres emphasized, is the
strongest factor in Israel’s economy.
IAI Chairman Dov Baharav
characterized Space IL as an outstanding example of new initiatives with
extraordinary challenges. The IAI as a leader in Israel’s space industry is
proud to be part of the project he said, and is eager to strengthen education in
The team comprises engineers, business people and media
personalities who are hooked on space technology, plus many technology-minded
volunteers from many fields. The hope is that their combined knowledge,
creativity and ability to think outside of the box will give Israel the edge it
requires over other competitors.
Prizes totaling $30 million will be
distributed to those teams whose vehicles travel at least 500 meters along the
surface of the moon and transmit images and data back to earth. Israel is among
29 competing teams.