In next generation of space race, Israel is at the forefront

Elon Musk’s SpaceX will launch an Israeli spaceship to the moon. And that’s just the beginning.

Dozens of teams applied to be the first privately funded group to land a spacecraft on the moon and win Google’s Lunar X competition – a $30 million bounty.

By the end of the multi-year contest, five teams remained – including those from the U.S., Israel and Japan. But after extending the deadline several times when the teams couldn’t finish their missions, Google took the prize off the table.

Google withdrawing its cash prize hasn’t stopped the Israeli team known as SpaceIL from accomplishing its goal. The group recently announced it will be hitching a ride on one of Elon Musk’s SpaceX rockets in early 2019. If all goes as planned, this puts Israel on track to become the fourth country to ever land on the moon behind the United States, Russia and China.
The SpaceIL team is drawing on knowledge and ingenuity from a wide array of local schools – including Tel Aviv University, the Technion Institute, the Weizmann Institute of Science and Ben-Gurion University. Israeli tech entrepreneurs, like the CEO of a company that makes tiny drones that deliver food to players on a golf course, are also helping out. Together, they have figured out a way to design a spacecraft that’s the size of a typical dishwasher, which would make it the smallest ship to ever attempt a lunar landing. If successful, it could open entirely new avenues for space exploration.

Canadian philanthropist Sylvan Adams, who helped bring the prestigious Giro d’Italia cycling race to Israel, has donated $5 million to the project and is joining the SpaceIL team. « I believe that sending the first Israeli spacecraft to the moon will inspire Israeli school children to take up STEM studies and think about space exploration, and especially to believe that everything is possible, » he said.

But the SpaceIL ship is just the beginning of Israel’s space travel efforts.
In 2015, the International Astronautical Congress was held in Jerusalem with legendary Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin serving as the conference’s keynote speaker. At the event, Israel entered into a partnership with NASA to help on an upcoming mission to Mars. The agreement opens the door for U.S. scientists to tap into the vast technological resources that Israel has to offer. That partnership will include joint missions between the two countries as well as sharing facilities and personnel. Most important, NASA will now have access to Israeli-made Mars equipment, which is known for being light in weight and energy efficient.

« Our two countries have had a long history of cooperation in space exploration, scientific discovery and research, and we look forward to the opportunities this new agreement provides us to build upon this partnership, » NASA administrator Charles Bolden said at the time. « You are known for your innovation and technology and this agreement gives us the opportunity to cooperate with Israel on the journey to Mars as we open up new opportunities for all of our children. »
Israel has also entered into a cooperative agreement with France’s space agency to help build a new satellite that can better withstand extreme conditions outside Earth’s orbit. Shalom Mission, a joint Israeli-Italian initiative, is working to develop an imaging satellite to take high-end photos of our planet. Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. has teamed up with U.K.-based Effective Space to launch a space drone that can dock to satellites in outer space.

But nothing quite holds the imagination as the Red Planet. It gained the public’s attention with the highly-acclaimed Matt Damon movie « The Martian, » but scientists and insiders have long been fascinated with its mystic allure.

Earlier this year, a team of astronauts turned that fiction into a reality. Called the D-Mars Project, they built a mock space station in southern Israel – near the 200 million-year-old Ramon Crater, the 25-mile-wide star attraction of the Ramon Nature Reserve. « The environment of the Ramon Crater holds many similarities to the Martian environment in its geology, aridity and isolation, and has therefore been chosen to facilitate the simulated mission, » the group said.
The rapid evolution Mars technology has spiked in recent years. NASA has built a humanoid robot called « Valkyrie » which they hope to send to the Red Planet on a fact-finding mission. Researchers at the University of Arizona have been developing a « Martian greenhouse » capable of not only feeding astronauts, but also supplying them with vital oxygen.
« It is in our DNA, our makeup as human beings, to have a curiosity to expand our knowledge and to explore beyond the present limits, » Aldrin told From The Grapevine. « It is an inevitable mark of progress. »

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