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At Kushner, Israelis shoot for the moon
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At Kushner, Israelis shoot for the moon

A model of the spaceship the SpaceIL team will launch was on view on the SpaceIL float at the Celebrate Israel parade on June 1.     
A model of the spaceship the SpaceIL team will launch was on view on the SpaceIL float at the Celebrate Israel parade on June 1.     

Daniel Saat and Kfir Damari, two of five members of SpaceIL, the Israeli team competing to be first to land its spaceship on the moon in a worldwide race, hope they created some buzz when they made their own soft landing at Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston on May 29. 

The two had dubbed that Thursday “Yom Jersey” because they were in the area for a week, and were spending that day visiting students at yeshivot and day schools around the Garden State. The whirlwind trip was timed to coincide with the June 1 Celebrate Israel parade, where they publicized their mission — not just to win the Google Lunar XPRIZE, but also to create what they are calling the SpaceIL effect — emotional investment of Jews both in Israel and around the world. (Damari is cofounder of SpaceIL and Saat is director of business development.)

Unfortunately for the Kushner students, the model of the spaceship the team will use to launch into space traveled on Yom Jersey only to The Frisch School in Paramus, where a group of northern NJ yeshivot and day schools had all gathered for a joint presentation. (The pair also had visited Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison.) But those who went to the parade got to see it on the float.

The Google Lunar XPRIZE, announced in 2007, is essentially a private race to the moon with some educational opportunities along the way. A total of 27 teams entered before the deadline at the end of 2010. In order to win the $20 million-plus in prize money, a team must land safely on the surface of the moon; travel 500 meters above, below, or on the lunar surface; and send back two “mooncasts” to Earth — all by December 2015. So far, 12 teams have withdrawn from the competition. SpaceIL is among those still in the race favored to win it.

Space IL has already raised $36 million, and team members are hopeful they can raise the rest of the money they will need to successfully complete their project. 

Their goal, according to Saat, who spoke with NJJN between the two presentations at Kushner, is not only to win the competition, but to be the first Israelis to send an unmanned spacecraft to the moon and to inspire kids along the way. 

The spacecraft is still under construction and will take a total of about 18 months to complete the construction and testing, according to Saat. “We hope to launch it within two years,” he said. “That’s very fast for a space program, though I realize it may be slow for high school.”

After the spacecraft lands, it will stay on the moon. Saat suggested that perhaps a Kushner student would pursue a career in rocket science and figure out how to bring the spacecraft back to Earth.

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