Yonatan Winetraub, a co-founder of the Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL, shared details from his organization’s April 2019 unmanned mission to the Moon with a packed room at Congregation Chizuk Amuno in Pikesville Nov. 14. He was the featured speaker at the Jewish National Fund (JNF) Breakfast for Israel.
The annual breakfast is an opportunity for JNF to highlight its fundraising efforts for Israel-based programs.
SpaceIL attempted to land the first private, interplanetary robotic mission on the moon, said Wendy Miller of JNF Century Council in her introductory remarks. The spacecraft, Beresheet, made Israel “only the seventh nation to orbit the moon and reach the lunar service,” Miller said.
However, a technical problem emerged as it descended April 11. Beresheet reached the moon’s orbit, but it hit the surface of the moon too fast, according to Winetraub.
“We don’t say ‘crashed,’ by the way. We say ‘a hard landing,’” he said. He joked that every Israeli “wants to make an impact.”
Winetraub explained how geopolitical concerns already pose a complication to Israeli space exploration. Most nations, he said, launch their spacecraft to the east, in order to take advantage of the extra boost that comes from the Earth’s rotation.
“Israel, however, has some neighbors on the east that might not appreciate rockets being fired in their direction,” which forces the nation to launch its spacecraft toward the west, explained Winetraub. Due to these political concerns, Beresheet was actually launched from Florida, he said. The location difference means Earth’s rotation hinders any launch, rather than helps.
Because of this, “today, Israel makes the most weight-efficient satellites in the world.”
Beresheet is “about the size of your coffee table” and has a weight similar to a Mini Cooper, according to Winetraub.
“That’s the smallest spacecraft ever designed and built and launched towards the surface of the moon,” he said.
While in its lunar approach, Beresheet carried a time capsule that contained small circles with microscopic pictures of communities “around the world,” Winetraub said.
“And in one of those circles,” Winetraub continued, “I’m holding a replica; this is the entire Bible. And this thing is now sitting on the surface of the moon for future generations to find.
“I saw there’s some kids in the audience; I encourage you guys to find it and get it back,” he said.
Winetraub showed before and after images taken of the “hard landing” site. He believes the mission was still successful in that it inspired youth.
“We wanted to reach the hearts and minds of the kids, and compete a little bit with…today’s culture of every kid wants to be a celebrity, a rock star,” he said. “But we also need the engineers and the scientists, and we want to make sure that these kids also want to do that.”
Winetraub was also grateful to show how space exploration was no longer the exclusive realm of nation-states.
“You got to understand that until April of this year, six months ago, only governments land on the moon. Big governments. As of April of this year, at last Pesach, small countries and private organizations are able to do so…this is the first private interplanetary mission that got to the moon. We are living in an era that getting to the moon is no longer the job of NASA,” he said. “I’m very proud that Israel can lead that effort toward the moon.”
Another organization that JNF showcased was its Special in Uniform Program, which reaches out to “young Israelis with different abilities to participate in the Israeli Defense Force,” according to Stuart Diamant-Cohen, executive director, Mid-Atlantic at JNF.
“Support of this program enables a vulnerable population to fully participate in society.”
Diamant-Cohen also told JT that, “We have built over 260 reservoirs throughout Israel, increasing the supply of water by over 12%.”
JNF is currently in the fifth year of a 10 year campaign to raise $1 billion. This year it has raised $628 million, according to Diamant-Cohen.