Israelis more than a little excited for historic moon landing on Thursday
Children will be staying up past their bedtime as watch parties are planned across the country.
All systems are go for a historic moon landing this Thursday. At around 3 p.m. EST, Israel is expected to become only the fourth country to ever accomplish that feat. Moreover, it will mark the first time ever that a privately funded spacecraft has landed on the moon.
The nation breathed a sigh of relief last week when the ship – called the Beresheet, Hebrew for Genesis – successfully completed a maneuver that placed it inside the moon's orbit. "The fact that we got to where we got is truly a miracle," said Morris Kahn, who contributed about half the $100 million needed for the mission. "It captures the imagination." SpaceIL, the team behind the mission, is now focused on the landing itself – which will take place around 10 p.m. locally in Israel.
Danny Barash, a software engineer in Tel Aviv, attended a middle-of-the-night party to watch the launch in February and plans on celebrating this Thursday night as well. "The SpaceIL story could be a great thriller," he told From The Grapevine. "It started in 2010 as three young guys faced something that looked pretty impossible. First, they had to raise a ridiculous amount of money, racing against companies that sat at NASA's backyard with more funds and connections; recruiting dozens of volunteers, and the incredible support from the Israel Aerospace Industries. Now, even though the spaceship is at the moon's orbit, the most dangerous part is still ahead."
Barash will be attending a celebration in Tel Aviv, and similar watch parties are planned across the country from the Givatayim Observatory to the Mitzpe Ramon Community Center. Friday is considered the first day of the weekend in Israel, so children will be allowed to stay up late on Thursday night to watch the event coverage live. Atara Solow tells From The Grapevine that her 9-year-old son Ori has gotten really into the mission and stayed up till 3 a.m. to watch the launch in Israel. He will, not surprisingly, be tuned into the landing this week as well.
Stellar Nova, a science education organization based in Israel held one of the largest watch parties for the launch and plans to redouble their efforts for Thursday's landing. Margot Stern, the group's CEO, told us that they will be hosting a pajama party at President Reuven Rivlin's house on Thursday night with space-themed trivia for the kids. Many are likening it to the historic moment when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first landed on the moon. The two landings are occurring exactly fifty years apart.
Dr. Yael Schuster, a co-founder of Stellar Nova who wrote a kids book about the Beresheet spacecraft, will be reading her book at the president's house. "I think that it's one of those things the kids who are watching it will remember forever where they were when this happened," she said. "And that they will feel such a part of it and such pride in it that it really effects the ability of educators like me to get kids excited – because half our work is already done. They're just in love with the story and this is the culmination of that excitement."
Michal Harris, an international lawyer who resides in Tel Aviv, noted the significance of the event. "Just as the Earth's creation story began with Beresheet, I'm excited that Israel's "genesis" presence on the moon is with the Beresheet shuttle. This dichotomy perfectly characterizes the modern state of Israel – staggering progress and technological advancement anchored in the values of our past," she said. "It’s really exciting."
In recent days, SpaceIL merchandise – T-shirts, baseball hats and even baby onesies – have been flying off the shelves. Ben Moore, a space enthusiast who works for Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs, hasn't decided yet which of the many watch parties he'll be attending. "This is an incredibly exciting time for Israelis everywhere," he said. "This is a project in which we can all be proud together while enjoying being inspired to go above and beyond, all while promoting education and space exploration for young and old alike."
Yonatan Winetraub, one of the three entrepreneurs who came up with the idea for the mission, will be traveling from his residence in northern California to the SpaceIL mission control in Israel to be with his colleagues as the spaceship he created makes history. It's the impact the moon mission is making on the next generation that is having the biggest effect on him. "The thing that touched me the most was that I was waiting for a friend just outside a coffee shop in Israel. And there were some kids that were playing around. One of them asked me: Am I one of the people from SpaceIL? The kids recognized me and they wanted to take pictures."
Winetraub continued: "Kids want to be space engineers when they grow up, and that's really touching. Because we did this mission to inspire kids. I feel that this is one of the most beautiful things of this mission."
The SpaceIL control room has been monitoring the ship since it launched in late February. It has been buzzing with excitement in the days leading up to this week's landing. (Photo: Eliran Avital / SpaceIL)
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Related Topics: Space