Israel’s Declaration of Independence and national anthem. The Bible. The memories of a Holocaust survivor. Children’s drawings of space and the moon; art, science, literature and technology; the Traveler’s Prayer and a note from former president Shimon Peres containing a verse from the Book of Genesis. All of these — three discs containing hundreds of digital files — were inserted Monday in a time capsule scheduled to head to the moon sometime next year, when Israel hopes to launch and land its first ever spacecraft to the moon.
If all goes well, the unmanned spacecraft worked on by the Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) will give Israel entry into the exclusive club of just three nations that have so far achieved a controlled landing on the moon’s surface. The capsule was the last component to go into the vehicle, before it is shipped to Florida to be launched from Cape Canaveral in the coming months.
The pictures, along with art, science and history books, “we will be taking with us to the moon,” said Yonatan Winetraub, one of three engineers who founded SpaceIL, a nonprofit organization set up in 2011 with the aim of landing the first Israeli spacecraft on the moon. “It is quite symbolic that the people of the book are going to take this library and put it on the surface of the moon,” he said, speaking at IAI’s Space Division in Yehud, some 40 minutes from Tel Aviv, at an event as the capsule was loaded onto the spacecraft.
“Today, we are putting all those dreams in the spaceship, like you would take an note and put it in the Western Wall, wishing for a bright future,” Winetraub added. The cracks between the stones of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, considered the holiest site Jews can pray at, are filled with notes conveying the requests of its visitors.
In early 2019, the spacecraft, recently named Beresheet — the Hebrew word for Genesis — will launch alongside other satellites as a secondary payload on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The precise launch date remains undetermined, as SpaceIL awaits final confirmation from the launch company, said SpaceIL CEO Ido Anteby at the event.
“The Israeli public chose the name Beresheet,” said Anteby. “It expresses the hope of the start of a new stage of Israel’s space industry.”
After the launch, the craft is expected to first orbit the earth and then the moon, where it is expected to land four to five months after the launch.
Winetraub said that the team that built the spacecraft, which, if successful will be the first ever commercial landing on the moon, was inspired by Ilan Ramon, a 48-year old Israeli fighter pilot and the first Israeli astronaut for NASA, who died in 2003 on the Columbia space mission in a re-entry accident.
“He went where no Israeli had gone before. Therefore, the first picture that we are going to take of the Earth will be dedicated to Ilan, a true Israeli pioneer venturing into the unknown,” said Winetraub.
“This is a very emotional moment,” he added. “We do not know how long the spacecraft and the time capsule will remain on the moon. It is very possible that future generations will find this information and want to learn more about this historic moment.”
SpaceIL is a nonprofit organization established in 2011 aiming to land the first Israeli spacecraft on the moon. It was founded by three young Israeli engineers, Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub, competing for the international Google Lunar XPRIZE challenge to build, launch and land an unmanned lunar spacecraft. The project has been conducted together with IAI.
SpaceIL’s vehicle is two meters (6.5 feet) in diameter and 1.5 meters tall standing on four legs. It weighs 600 kilograms, which would make it the smallest craft to touch down on the moon.
Carrying the Israeli flag, the spacecraft will conduct a Weizmann Institute of Science experiment to measure the moon’s magnetic field, finishing its mission within two days.
The landing mission will be “very challenging,” complicated and risky, said SpaceIL’s Anteby at the event. To save costs and energy, the craft will not fly directly to the moon, but take a circuitous way.
Once launched, the spacecraft will disengage from the SpaceX launch rocket when it reaches 60,000 kilometers from Earth’s surface and begin orbiting the Earth in elliptical orbits. It will circle the Earth, widening its circumference each time, while saving fuel by only starting its engines at the end of each cycle. Then, at the right time, it will leave Earth’s gravity and enter the gravity of the moon.
After circling the moon a few times, it will begin the landing process, carried out autonomously by the spacecraft’s navigation control system. The entire flight, from launch through landing, will take a number of months.
A big part of the project is to inspire youth, Anteby said, to show that you can “dream and dare,” as did the three founders of SpaceIL.
The craft is “almost ready and will be shipped to the launchpad in the next couple of weeks,” Anteby told The Times of Israel on the sidelines of the event. The capsule will hold photos, pictures, drawings and stories, especially from kids, that were sent them over several years. It will also hold the story of a Holocaust survivor.
Anteby said that a few months ago at a conference he met the son of a Holocaust survivor. “When he heard about this inspiring mission, he asked me to put on the disc a story that his father wrote” about his experiences during the Holocaust.
The time capsule, which will travel to the moon inside SpaceIL’s lunar spacecraft, will also hold details about the spacecraft and the crew that built it; Israel’s national symbols; cultural objects; paintings collected over years from the public for sending to the moon; dictionaries in 27 languages and encyclopedias, such as Wikipedia, an indication of knowledge accumulated by all humanity thus far; Israeli songs; books of art, science and Israeli literature; information about Israeli scientific and technological discoveries and developments that influenced the world; photos of Israel’s landscapes and of leading figures in Israeli culture; and a children’s book that was inspired by SpaceIL’s mission to the moon.
In 2011, president Shimon Peres gave the team a biblical verse to insert into the capsule, from Genesis, Chapter 1, verse 15. It says, referring to the sun and moon in the Biblical story of Creation: “And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the Earth.”
Ofer Doron, IAI’s Space Division general manager, said that if the mission is successful, SpaceIL will be the first firm that to make a commercial landing on the moon. He hopes, he said, that this will not be a one-time event, but will pave the way for Israel to help other nations to make commercial trips to the moon, using Israeli technology, to perform scientific or other operations.
“There is no doubt that the technological knowledge acquired by IAI during the development and construction of Beresheet, together with Space IL and combined with the space capabilities developed over more than 30 years at IAI, puts us at the global forefront in the ability to complete lunar missions,” he said at the event.
The spacecraft, whose construction was carried out at IAI’s Space Division, successfully completed a series of recent tests to examine the integration of systems and a series of complex experiments aimed at testing its durability, IAI and SpaceIL said in a statement.
In October, SpaceIL and the Israeli Space Agency announced a collaboration with NASA that will enable SpaceIL to improve its ability to track and communicate with the spacecraft before, during, and after landing on the moon.
SpaceIL has been funded by donors including Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, Sami Sagol, Lynn Schusterman, Steven and Nancy Grand, Sylvan Adams and others. Morris Kahn, a philanthropist and businessman, took the lead in completing the mission, financing about NIS 100 million ($26 million) of the project and serving as SpaceIL’s president.