Saturday, 13 April 2019

Crash But Not Burn

It felt a little like déjà vu on Thursday night.  My mind was transported back to February 2003 when the whole of Israel waited with baited breath as the Space Shuttle Columbia re-entered the earth's atmosphere with the very first ever Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon on board.  Despite feeling immense pride at the amazing achievements made by a tiny country and its first astronaut, the day was not to end well.  The space shuttle burned up during its re-entry to the atmosphere killing all on board in the process.  Ilan Ramon's memory remains a folk legend in Israel.  And so, too, there was disaster last night as Beresheet, Israel's first ever lunar craft, made its final approach to the Sea of Serenity.  Unfortunately another failure along Israel's route to becoming a superstar country in the area of space travel and exploration.  The quest to become only the world's fourth country to safely land a craft on the moon was not achieved yesterday by the Israeli lunar lander.

In spite of another setback for Israel in the field of space exploration, there were so many positive things that came out of Beresheet's trip to the moon that it is really difficult to see it as a failure at all.  Coming at the end of a week that also saw a general election that proved to be very divisive in many respects, it was heart-warming to see how the country and the Jewish world united in support of Beresheet.  Willing it to safely land on the surface of the moon.  Willing Israel to take up an important place as one of the handful of nations to achieve this.  This unified support was in such contrast to the previous few days over the period of the election, and would have seemed impossible only two or three days earlier.  This extended not only to those in Israel, but to Jews around the world.  We could feel a real sense of support from Jews around the world during the time of this project, something that is not taken for granted at all.

The fact that Israel became only the seventh nation on earth to send a spacecraft into orbit around the moon, is a huge achievement in itself.  And this was the very first project not sponsored by a national government, making the achievement quite unique.  This is a great response to those who use every opportunity to criticise Israel and to those who wish to destroy her.  This is the way to answer those who accuse Israel of being an apartheid state, and to demonstrate to BDS and its supporters that there is tremendous depth to Israeli ingenuity and huge desire to develop, to build and to make a real difference in science, technology and other fields.  This is the way to show that the Israel that is seen on BBC and CNN and that is castigated at the UNHRC, is not the real face of Israel.  Beresheet is a much truer face and a fairer reflection of what Israel really stands for and what she is truly about.  This shows Israel to be a nation that builds rather than destroying, and this stands in stark contrast to the lack of any positive achievements by many of Israel's enemies.

The attention that this project has drawn to the field of space travel and space exploration in Israel is almost on the scale of the attention drawn to it by Ilan Ramon and his exploits.  Surely, the interest of the next generation is almost assured in the process.  In spite of the slip-up at the final hurdle, young Israelis have been excited by this story sufficiently to ensure that they will be seeking ways of succeeding where Beresheet failed.  In the same way that we did not hear the last of Ilan Ramon when Columbia disintegrated and  he went on to become a household name and a legend, I am sure that we have not heard the end of an Israeli lunar landing.  It seems not to be coincidental that the name chosen for the spacecraft was Beresheet, the first word in the Torah with the meaning of "in the beginning".  Just as the name signifies, this seems to be just the beginning of great things to come.

Huge credit needs to go to the SpaceIL team, to sponsor and president Morris Kahn and to all those involved in the project.  They gave Israel and Israelis a dream and something around which to unite and feel proud.  And they gave thousands of Israeli children the little flame to ignite their interest and their desire and determination to ultimately succeed in the quest to have Israel successfully land on the moon.  This is a huge achievement and a very positive island in a huge sea of negativity that often surrounds Israel.

The Israeli flag and the Torah are on the moon.  They landed there with a crash rather than in the elegant way that we would have preferred.  But they are there to stay.  They may have crashed, but they did not burn.  A marker has been established, and this is certainly not the last that we will hear of Israeli ventures in space.  It is just the beginning.

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