As soon as 2015, an Israeli team called SpaceIL is planning on landing a craft on the Moon ("IL" is Israel's Internet country code). While it will not carry a person, the craft will carry cameras, broadcasting equipment, and the dreams of Israel's people. Two members of the team- SpaceIL's Co-Founder Kfir Damari and its Director of Business Development Daniel Saat- were in Chicago this spring to present their progress.
On the inspiration and design of the project:
Damari: SpaceIL answers the challenge of the Google Lunar X Prize. Israel was the last team to register, in 2010. We began with three engineers, all under (age) 30, in a bar, writing on graph paper. Now, we have 20 full-time employees, more than 200 volunteers, and a multi-million dollar budget. Meanwhile, the competition started with 33 teams, but there are 18 left now, and only three others- including two from the US- have a real chance.
Saat: Being late, we could avoid the mistakes the other teams had made. Space is unforgiving. Our lander had to be cheaper, more efficient, simple, and smart. Ours only weighs 300 pounds and is the size of a dishwasher. Some 80 percent of it is the propulsion system and fuel (which is radioactive); the computer parts would fit in three or four cell phones. Only non-profits can compete, with only 10 percent of our budgets coming from the government. Now, we have $20 million of the $36 million we need. Israel Aerospace Industries told us they have 'an obligation to help' and have given us the facilities and engineers to make this project possible.
On the project's goals:
Damari: To win the $20 million prize, we have to be the first to launch from Earth, land on the Moon, live-stream video to Earth, then move 500 meters on the Moon surface. Rather than create a rover with wheels, ours will use thrusters to "hop" that distance. We have to go 4 miles per second to escape Earth's gravity, but then slow almost all the way down to land, which will be 15 minutes of horror. Plus, even with the remote-control transmissions sent at light speed, there is a time lag of three or four seconds, so for the landing the craft will have to think for itself.
On the project's impact:
Saat: We are aiming for an Apollo Effect, a burst in enthusiasm for science education and learning.
Damari: Three aspects of science especially excite kids- space, robots, and dinosaurs. This project has two! And if we find dinosaurs on the Moon…
Saat: We want to lead this for the 21st Century in a blue-and-white way. We have already spoken to 50,000 kids in Israeli classrooms. We have partnerships with The Israel Space Agency, the Weizmann Institute-which designed the lander's cameras-the Ministry of Education, The iCenter for Israel Education, and the Hillels.
Damari: It will be a huge thing for Israel; this will be everyone's spacecraft. We had a mission- now we have a movement.