Moon mission could solidify Israel as Silicon Valley of the Middle East

Recently, an Israeli robotic probe called Beresheet, Hebrew for “In the beginning,” made the first leg of its journey to the moon on a flight from Israel to Florida.  Beresheet, if it reaches the moon and fulfills its mission, will be as history changing in its own, small way as the Apollo moon landing. 

The six-foot lander is carrying a NASA laser reflector and “a time-capsule of cultural and historical Israeli artifacts,” according to Space.com.

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Beresheet’s journey to the moon, due to start in mid-February, will be a long one. Once in space, over a period of some weeks, it will slowly raise its orbit around the Earth until it is captured by the moon’s gravity field. Then the robotic lander will slowly lower its orbit around the moon until, hopefully, it lands on the Sea of Serenity.

Once on the lunar surface, Beresheet will take videos and still images and the magnetic field readings. After a few days, because the lander was not designed to last very long in the lunar day, Beresheet’s mission will end.

Beresheet would not only be Israel’s first deep-space science mission, it will be the first probe designed and built by a private group to land on the moon. SpaceIL was one of the finalists in the now defunct Google Lunar XPrize contest. If all goes well, the small group of Israeli engineers will have won the glory if not the monetary prize of the first private moon race.

Originally, the Beresheet mission was envisioned to create what SpaceIL called an “Apollo effect,” to inspire Israeli youth to pursue STEM education and to stimulate Israeli technology businesses. According to the Jerusalem Post, Israel’s Aerospace Industries has formed an agreement with the German space company OHB System AG to build lunar landers based on the Beresheet for the European Space Agency. The first such Israeli-built lunar lander may be used for the envisioned European voyage to the moon to test mining technologies.

A successful moon landing will solidify Israel as a technological power in its own right and a player on the world stage with strength and influence far beyond its small size.

Israel is already becoming a hotbed of technological innovation. The term “startup nation” was coined by a book by Dan Senor and Dan Singer that described how Israel has become a Silicon Valley in the Middle East. Israel becoming a space power will magnify that phenomenon in ways that are difficult to predict.

World Affairs Journal noted that a clandestine alliance has developed between Israel and the Sunni Arab world. Progress has been slow since decades of mutual animosity are difficult to overcome. The two factors driving this Middle East détente are mutual fear of Iran and the Arab states’ desire to base their economies on technology instead of oil. Israeli technological acumen combined with Arab oil money could be potent.

Space has become an area of interest in the Arab world. The U.A.E., for example, has formed an astronaut corps and is working on a robotic mission to Mars, An Arab-Israeli space program could do great things, not the least of which would be furthering Middle East peace.

Mark Whittington is the author of space exploration studies “Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond.”