All of Israel can take pride in the Feb 21 successful launch of SpaceIL’s Beresheet spacecraft to the Moon. This launch represents the first major physical step on the road (through space, actually) to its ultimate destination, eight years in the making. We are all standing a few centimeters taller today, as the world learns of our historic launch. Israel and Israelis are now fully engaged, beaming with pride.
Beresheet will now fly on a seven-week journey that includes seven elliptical orbits of our planet, before breaking free of Earth’s gravitational forces, traveling until it reaches the Moon, and entering a lunar orbit. Shortly thereafter, on April 11, Israel will become the fourth nation to land on the Moon, following the three global superpowers Russia, the US and China. And, Israel will be the very first to do it almost exclusively with private funds.
As a partner in this ambitious project, it was deeply satisfying to experience the launch in Cape Canaveral, Florida, with two of SpaceIL’s three founders – Yonatan Winetraub, Kfir Damari, and SpaceIL VP Yigal Harel – along with Israel Aerospace Industries executive VP Boaz Levy. All of them spoke eloquently at the pre-launch press conference.
I was proud to represent the donors. I called them investors – as there is a substantial non-financial return on investment to “Brand Israel” and to the science of space travel – and spoke of SpaceIL’s driving force and principal, Morris Kahn, whose bold and unwavering leadership of this mission since Day 1, turned a dream into reality.
Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, and major investor and staunch supporter Miri Adelson, together with her son, Adam, were also among those present to experience this unique moment. Prior to the launch, I spoke on the phone to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who wished us Godspeed (before driving to SpaceIL Mission Control at IAI in Yehud in the wee hours to personally witness the launch).
On Feb 21 at precisely 20:45, we at the Kennedy Space Center viewing area in Cape Canaveral, at the same time as the rest of the SpaceIL team led by Morris Kahn on the other side of the world at IAI Mission Control (though it was already Feb 22 in Israel), counted aloud the last 10 seconds before the historic launch. Fittingly, there was not a cloud in the sky to block out a nearly full Moon, as all present looked skyward at the spectacular burst of rocket flames propelling our little Beresheet spacecraft toward that large orb beaming brightly at us in Florida. It was exciting, nerve-wracking, and ultimately breathtaking to watch our spacecraft successfully depart the launchpad for its mission – and 33 minutes later, detach from the second stage of the Space X Saturn 9 rocket which propelled our Beresheet on its journey.
REMARKABLY, the first stage of the Falcon 9 re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and flew autonomously to a drone ship standing by in the Atlantic Ocean 40 km. (25 miles) away. It landed safely, to be used again in future missions (the second stage burned up during its faster and higher re-entry). The other major payload joining us on the launch, the Indonesia’s Nusantara Satu communications satellite, will provide high-speed Internet capability to tens of millions of Indonesians. We have entered a new era of space exploration and travel with this private, uber-style rocket launch – sharing and re-cycling, which greatly lowers the costs. Our Beresheet went into space at a fraction of the cost of the billion-dollar Space Shuttle flights a decade ago.
Tiny Israel is again in the news, but this time for aspiring to achieve something remarkable for any nation, big or small. In this important way we are blocking out the negative forces conspiring against us with yet another great moment of contribution toward all of mankind that will benefit from our shoestring effort (if $100m. can be called that) to promote the exploration of Space.
This mission represents a quantum addition to the science of space exploration, and is yet another demonstration to the world at large, including our detractors, of the exemplary and exceptional qualities of Israeli ingenuity and capabilities. We will defeat the irrational hate of the anti-Israel boycott movement with our good deeds. Achievements like this remarkable lunar project promote “Brand Israel,” our country that punches far above its weight in so many important fields.
Having made aliyah three years ago, I decided to devote the next chapter of my life to promoting Israel and the Jewish people. As such, my business card reads “Self-Appointed Ambassador at large, for Israel.” I am proud to be a partner in this beautiful project, which so fittingly follows this mission.
The next seven weeks of orbit and travel to our final destination represent an opportunity to further promote and explain our mission, and then, to experience the climax of the lunar landing. As Tal Brodie said in the ‘70s referring to Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball victory in the European championships, “Israel is on the map.”
An important part of this project has been educational, as SpaceIL’s team has traveled all around Israel to speak to schoolchildren about our mission and about space travel, and also to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education in our country. Kfir Damari, one of the three founders of SpaceIL, has given many such lectures in schools all over Israel.
He finishes his presentation by posing a challenge to these kids: SpaceIL will plant the Israeli flag on the Moon on April 11. It is up to the next generation to develop a program to fly to the Moon and retrieve our flag. If our successful landing of Beresheet motivates today’s youth to take up this challenge, we will have inspired a new generation to look to the stars.
We are on our way... to the Moon!
The writer is a Canadian-Israeli businessman and a sponsor of SpaceIL.