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Israeltomoon

By Peter Evans,2014-06-02 15:18
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If all goes according to plan, by December 2012 a team of three young Israeli scientists will have landed a tiny spacecraft on the moon, explored the lunar surface, and transmitted live video back to earth, thereby scooping up a $20 million prize (the Google Lunar X Prize), revolutionizing space exploration, and making the Jewish State the third nation (after the U.S. and Russi..

    If all goes according to plan, by December 2012 a team of three young Israeli scientists will have landed a tiny spacecraft on the moon, explored the lunar surface, and transmitted live video back to earth, thereby scooping up a $20 million prize (the Google Lunar X Prize), revolutionizing space exploration, and making the Jewish State the third nation (after the U.S. and Russia) to land a probe on the moon. And theyre doing it in their spare time.

    The three engineers Yariv Bash (electronics and computers), Kfir Damari (communication systems), and Yonatan Winetraub (satellite systems) all have high-level day jobs in the Israeli science and technology world, and also both teach and study. They all had heard of the Google Lunar X Prize independently, before being introduced by mutual friends who, as Yonatan puts it thought we were all crazy

    enough to do it, so we should meet each other.

    By the end of November 2010 they had sketched together a novel plan to win the prize and submitted it to organizers. Only on December 21 (10 days before the December 31 deadline) did they set about raising the $50,000 entry fee. Like good Israelis we left it to

    the last minute, Yonatan laughs.

    Since then theyve recruited around 50 volunteers from across the Israeli science and technology community and have gained support from academic institutions, including the prestigious Weizmann Institute of Science (founded in 1933 by Chaim Weizmann, himself a successful chemist who went on to become Israels first president).

    Theyre operating as a non-profit (were looking for stakeholders,

    says Project Coordinator Ronna Rubinstein), and any winnings will be invested in promoting science among Israeli youth. The X Prizes organizers say their competition is intended to attract mavericks who take new approaches and think creatively about difficult problems, resulting in truly innovative breakthroughs. They

    see the moon as a largely untapped resource, and believe that inexpensive, regular access to the Moon is a critical stepping stone for further exploration.

    Maverick and creative thinkers the Israeli trio appear to be: According to the X Prize organizers, the 29 competing teams will

    spend between $15 million and $100 million on the project, with the earliest launch not scheduled until 2013. The Israelis aim to spend less than that (around $10 million) and to launch before 2013. One of reasons that were able to do this, Kfir (who started

    programming aged six and wrote his first computer virus aged 11) explains, is because of our different perspective. Most space missions aim to last many years and so have to be built in a certain way. Ours doesnt have to last as long. This saves cost.

    Another way the team intends to keep costs down involves utilizing existing technology that just hasnt previously been linked up for this

    purpose, rather than spending a new fortune. Naturally the team isnt

    releasing specific details of the technology theyre using, but theyre

    confident that theyve got what they need.

    And once theyre on the moon? The actual robot will be something

    the size of a coca-cola bottle, says Yonatan. Think about it a cell

    phone has most of the capabilities necessary for communication and imaging, and to that we need to add a hopper to move around the

    moon. Simple really. And the impact of this? Once we do this it

    will break the glass ceiling, Yonatan adds, and show that space

    exploration doesnt have to be expensive.

    As to why they got involved? Three reasons, say Yonatan,

    Creating national pride, really putting Israel on the map as a start-up nation by doing something only the superpowers have done, and reigniting Israeli interest in science. And its

    the third rejuvenating interest among Israeli youth in

    science thats closest to these young scientists hearts.

    In the 1960s and 1970s, they say, many young Israelis pursued careers in science, in part inspired by the American space program. Today that isnt the case, and the number of high school seniors

    majoring in science is constantly declining. We want to

    show that science isnt just about sitting in a lab all day,

    says Kfir.

    In 1919 French hotelier Raymond Orteig offered $25,000 for the first non-stop flight between New York City and Paris. Eight years later Charles Lindbergh, considered an underdog, won the prize by making

the crossing in his Spirit of St. Louis. That not only changed the

    way people saw flying, but how they saw the world. The X Prize was inspired by the Orteig Prize, and if the Spirit of

    Israel is successful they can certainly count on changing how

    young Israelis see science and how others see Israel. They may also change how we all see the universe.

    Daniel Freedman is the director of strategy and policy analysis at The Soufan Group, a strategic consultancy. His writings can be found at www.dfreedman.org. He writes a fortnightly column

    for Forbes.com.

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