SpaceIL chairman Morris Kahn decided Wednesday to boldly go where no one has gone before, veering wildly off script at Israel’s carefully staged national Independence Day ceremony to announce he will again contribute funding for a second attempt to land an Israeli spacecraft on the moon.
Kahn, a South African-Israeli billionaire philanthropist, made the announcement while lighting a torch on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.
Beresheet, the world’s first privately funded moon lander, crashed into the lunar surface in April during an attempted landing, apparently due to a technical glitch that caused its main engine to stop mid-landing.
Kahn, 89, put his glasses on to read his prepared lines but then looked up and winged it, thanking all those in the project and making a little announcement about Beresheet 2.
“Now, I heard tonight the prime minister declare that we will return to moon,” Kahn said of comments by Benjamin Netanyahu. “On the evening of the landing when we did not manage and we were two moments from the end, and we did not get there, the prime minister turned to me and asked, ‘How much will it cost?’ and I gave him my estimate.
“He asked, ‘How long will it take?’ and I said two years,” Khan recounted to laughter from the crowd, as he rebuffed attempts to get him back on script and recite the traditional torch-lighting refrain.
“He asked if I was prepared to contribute again and I said I would consider it,” Kahn continued. “Tonight, the answer is yes.”
Ceremony organizers eventually turned off Kahn’s microphone before he was done talking and continued to the next torch-lighter.
Kahn provided a large chunk of the $100 million (NIS 370 million) required to build and launch the first spacecraft — a novel approach that came at a fraction of the cost of previous, state-funded efforts to land on the moon.
The project was a joint venture between the Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, funded almost entirely by private donations from well-known Jewish philanthropists, including Kahn, Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, Lynn Schusterman, and others.
Kahn had already announced, just days after the crash, that he was launching project Beresheet 2, saying “We started something and we need to finish it. We’ll put our flag on the moon.”
Following that announcement, Israel Aerospace Industries, which partnered on Beresheet, said it would gladly take part in future SpaceIL ventures.