The Race to Space and the Israeli Team

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The Race to Space and the Israeli Team

Almost 50 years after the Cold War space race, China and Russia lead space explorations, but Israel isn’t too far behind. This tiny country that has 15 sophisticated satellites orbiting the Earth has a good chance of winning the Google Lunar XPRIZE.

The contest was launched in 2007 and challenges 28 teams (from countries such as Chile, Canada, the United States, and more) to build a private spacecraft that can land on the moon and move 500 meters in any direction. It also has to send back video and high definition pictures. The first team to achieve this will win $20 million and second place winners will receive $10 million in money and prizes. All teams have until December 31, 2017 to win the contest. At the moment, Moon Express (an American team) and SpaceIL (an Israeli team) are in the lead.

The contest hopes to inspire and challenge engineers, entrepreneurs, and innovators from all over the world to create inexpensive robots that can explore space.  Chanda Gonzales-Mowrer, a senior director at Google Lunar X Prize said the prize is also “a great [way for] teams to come together in the next giant leap in space exploration.”

But why explore the moon when there are many other planets to see? Google Lunar’s website states that the reason they chose the moon as a destination is because it’s Earth’s closest neighbor and it provides opportunities to explore the rest of the universe.

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The SpaceIL probe, which is a three-legged machine about the size of a dishwasher, features the newest technology to date. If Israel wins the competition, they would instantly gain recognition for their scientific advancements. Yonatan Weintraub, a member of SpaceIL, says the win would benefit all Israelis.

“The goal here is to create a good chance for Israel to get to the Moon so we can put the Israeli flag there. We see the benefit for Israel’s image in the world. To put it simply, this win would mean that Israel is a pioneer in the aerospace industry. It would encourage schools to strengthen their science programs.”  

Getting to the moon safely is expensive. To help cover the 136 million shekel cost of sending a robot to the moon, the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Family Foundation gave a 62 million shekel donation. Other major donors were Morris Kahn and the Schusterman Family Foundation. SpaceIL is also supported by many science and technology institutions in Israel.  

“Only three countries have soft-landed a rover on the surface of the moon: the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China,” said SpaceIL CEO Eran Privman. “Now the idea of the small state of Israel being added to this exclusive list looks more promising than ever.”

Israeli engineers and scientists have long aspired to explore unknown territory. “What we are looking for is to really accomplish the dream that for centuries men are dreaming about, and that is going out of orbit and getting to far away stars or any place like the moon,” Privman added. SpaceIL was the first team to have their launch plan accepted by the Google Lunar XPRIZE. If they win, SpaceIL has promised to donate their winnings to Israelis who wish to study science and follow their passion.

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Discussion

Would you want to be part of the SpaceIL team?

Do you think that it’s important that Israel participates in this competition?

2013-03-31 – Canadian astronaut and Commander of Expedition 35 answers a question about how astronauts brush their teeth in space.