When they say that space is the final frontier, that isn’t just a saying from a TV show, it’s the truth for nations here on Earth. Despite Neil Armstrong touching down on the lunar surface nearly 50 years ago, only two other countries in the world have ever made it to the moon, the USSR, and China.
Now, Israel is poised to join that exclusive club.
SpaceIL is an Israeli non-profit that has been driving the nation towards the stars since 2011. Founded with the intention of promoting scientific and technological education in Israel, the team immediately declared an ambitious goal; To take Israel to the moon. At the time, many considered the idea "optimistic,” a goal to work towards, but not necessarily something to hold your breath for. But in only 8 short years, SpaceIL has secured a launch pad and space on a rocket, has designed a spacecraft/lander capable of making it to the moon’s surface, and are looking forward to launching the project this February.
Beresheet, or Genesis in Hebrew, is a combination spacecraft and lunar lander which will be making the actual trip. In a feat of mathematical precision, Beresheet will be taking a roundabout route to the moon starting at Cape Canaveral, hitching a ride on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket as part of its payload of satellites and observation equipment. Unlike those satellites which will remain in the Earth’s atmosphere, Beresheet won’t be sticking around. After detaching from Falcon 9, the lander will orbit around the planet several times, building speed until performing what is known as an "orbital rising,” basically using a combination of momentum and thrusters to escape its current orbit and slingshot towards the moon. When it arrives, it will perform essentially the opposite maneuver, gently joining the moon’s orbit, decreasing its speed and lowering its altitude for a period of up to two weeks before slowing and guiding itself to the surface for a "soft” landing.
All told, the journey will take upwards of three months. But don’t worry about its crew, Beresheet is an unmanned spacecraft and will be depending on on-board guidance systems and remote commands from ground control to make the trip successfully. But, don’t think that just because it is unmanned Beresheet won’t be brining anything from home with it to the moon.
Similar to the famous Voyager Golden Records, Beresheet will be carrying a time capsule of sorts made up of three separate disks carrying digital files. This trove of information is designed to embody everything that is near and dear to the history and spirit of the Israeli people. Among the items being sent is The Bible, symbolic of the faith of the Israeli people and the blessings God has provided them to be capable of such an ambitious feat. Beresheet will also contain a copy of Israel’s Declaration of Independence along with its flag and anthem - symbols of pride sent to live in the stars.
The capsule will also be bringing the creative and academic spirit of the Israeli people to the lunar surface. Hundreds of children’s drawings, short recordings, art and science textbooks will be held in its files to be preserved. The children’s drawings were sourced from an open call to the children of Israel to contribute to the project, to which thousands enthusiastically responded. The Space Race might be old news in the West, but the Israeli imagination still has an appetite for the stars.
The lander and capsule will remain on the moon’s surface with the hopes that it will one day be retrieved, perhaps by future generations. Maybe that’s what will happen. Maybe someday in the future we’ll be advanced enough to send more people to the moon, find the lander, and retrieve those items. But, even if we don’t, it is still a beautiful thing.
When Israel accomplishes this national milestone, it won’t just be a technological accomplishment, but one of the human spirit as well. With the capsule in Beresheet, there will always be a piece of Israeli, and more fundamentally, human culture in space. No matter what happens here, that piece of history will always remain, perhaps even after the day the Lord calls us home.