By David Isaac
I have a confession. A surprising thought flashed through my mind as I watched the Genesis spacecraft descend toward the moon. “The best thing that could happen now is that it doesn’t make it.”
The thought startled even me, especially as I’m a space buff who was attending ‘Mars or Bust’ conferences back in the ’90s.
The logic behind my thought was that when people come tantalizingly close to a goal they often redouble their efforts, even more so when those people are Jews. The biblical description “stiff-necked” is true, for good and bad.
My belief is being borne out. Within two days of Genesis plummeting into the lunar surface at 500 km/hr, (a failed acceleration sensor led to a series of events that shut down the main engine) Morris Kahn, the South African billionaire and “great benefactor” of SpaceIL, announced Genesis 2, a second probe, would immediately go into production.
It’s an important and far-reaching decision. In retrospect, it may be turn out to be the decision that made Israel into a global leader in space exploration. That’s because what matters is keeping SpaceIL’s engineering team together. If it does stay together, Israel has a great chance of going on to become a world beater. If it breaks apart, chances are it won’t.
Readers familiar with the story of the Lavi, Israel’s failed attempt at building its own fighter jet, will understand where I’m coming from. The Lavi plane was completed and had already undergone test flights. It was ready for production. Then Israel’s government foolishly shuttered it. Those who argued for closing it down promised that the engineers on the Lavi would be put to other work. They were – in the United States. The team broke apart and all their hard-won, practical knowledge was lost – at least to Israel. Boeing and Lockheed no doubt gained a great deal.
Ya’akov Itzikovitch, who has the distinction of becoming the first Israeli to earn a degree in computer sciences, wrote an op-ed in daily newspaper Israel Hayom, in which he compared the crash of Genesis to the opening ceremony for WEIZAC (the Weizmann Automatic Calculator) in 1955.
The event took place at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. It was October but the temperature was unseasonably warm, and still higher in the small room where a crowd had gathered for the computer’s inauguration. At the moment of truth, the switch was flung… and boom! A small explosion. Smoke filled the room. The crowd quickly streamed out. The scene could have been out of a comedy had it not been so disappointing and embarrassing. (It turned out the high temperature caused a short-circuit.)
In that instance, the computer was fixed within an hour. (It’ll take three years for Genesis 2 to reach the moon.) But Itzikovitch points out that the lunar crash, like the short circuit, only “signals the start of the path. Sticking to the purpose and persistence is the order of the hour.”
“Don’t give in. Continue on,” he writes.
Photo Credit: SpaceIL