Reach for the moon

New Israeli book teaches kids about space travel

SpaceIL, behind upcoming moon mission, and science education company Stellar Nova team up to educate children in both Hebrew and English

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

'The Little Spacecraft, a joint project of SpaceIL and science education company StellarNova, offers the basics about space travel (Courtesy StellarNova)
'The Little Spacecraft, a joint project of SpaceIL and science education company StellarNova, offers the basics about space travel (Courtesy StellarNova)

Israel is planning on going to the moon. This year, in fact.

With plans to take off from Cape Canaveral, Florida in early 2019, Israeli space initiative SpaceIL wants to educate and excite kids about space travel, and is doing so with a new children’s book, “The Little Spacecraft.”

The illustrated story is written by Dr. Mom, also known as Yael Schuster, with help from veteran journalist Matthew Kalman, who serves on the board of StellarNova, Schuster’s company dedicated to all things scientific for kids, with illustrations by Shana Koppel, also a StellarNova staffer.

“The Little Spacecraft” tells the story of Berrie — short for Beresheet, the name of the SpaceIL moon mission — a toy spacecraft that gets taken home from the toy store by a little girl. Throughout their adventures, it explains the basics of space travel, and, along the way, points out what girls can bring to the male-dominated area of moon travel.

The concept behind the children’s book is to explain the science of space travel. (Courtesy StellarNova)

They’re all familiar themes to Schuster, who grew up in Hanover County, Virginia, “the middle of nowhere,” she likes to say, where she was always curious and asking questions. That penchant for being curious led Schuster to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees in chemistry and then a PhD in organic chemistry from the Technion, after she moved to Israel 14 years ago.

“Looking at things under a microscope was always natural to me,” said Schuster, adding that she and her father used to build model rockets and launch them into neighbors’ fields. “I kept asking things like, ‘Why is this green?’ ‘What is inside of a blueberry that makes it blue?’ I was fascinated by the universe.”

Dr. Mom, aka Yael Schuster, is a chemist who wants to help kids enjoy the wonders of science through her company, StellarNova. (Courtesy Yael Schuster)

Schuster worked at the Weizmann Institute before deciding to branch out and work with kids, getting them excited about science.

The Dr. Mom nickname came from her own children, but she likes it, and feels it fits her roles as doctor, scientist, mother, and educator.

StellarNova is Schuster’s female-staffed, consumer products company that produces kits, books and other products relating to science. Funded by several investors, her group of advisers includes Kfir Damari, the founder of SpaceIL.

“We were looking for a product that would create a wider reach to the Israel space project,” said Schuster. “We wanted something with emotional meaning plus technical teaching in order to expand knowledge.”

The 1,000-word book, which is offered in English and Hebrew, offers succinct explanations about the parts of a small rocket and the technicalities of space travel, couched within a cozy, familiar story of a brother and sister and their animated toy chest.

Israel is mentioned only peripherally, through the Israeli flag on the spacecraft, and Berrie, the spacecraft narrator.

“It’s the idea of a little spaceship and a big dream,” said Schuster. “Israel has a specialty in making small satellites, because when Israel launches satellites, given the way the earth turns, we launch against the spinning of the earth, so we wanted to use that in the book. Berrie is a little spacecraft with big dreams.”

The English version of the book is available on Amazon, Book Depository, and in English and Hebrew through the StellarNova website.

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