It’s impossible to know how many millions of Israelis stayed up to watch as a small, intricately built spacecraft, carefully wrapped in shining gold, hitched a ride on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as it blasted off at 8:45 pm EST from Cape Canaveral’s launching pad in Florida.
At the same time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara were with other officials and aerospace experts at the Israel Aerospace Industries control room, watching the launch of Israel’s first spacecraft, ‘Beresheet’.
Before the launch, Netanyahu said in remarks that he first wanted to “honor the memories of Ilan, Rona and Asaf Ramon,” the first family of Israeli space travel.
“This attests to Israeli heroism,” Netanyahu said. “A marvelous thing is happening here. While this is a great step for Israel, it is a huge step for Israeli technology.
The State of Israel is a rising global power, to the moon. . . It shows what we are capable of, thanks to the people here and the people behind me in the control room, including the scientists, engineers, physicists, mathematicians, managers and donors.”
Netanyahu said that he had asked that a Tanakh, an Israeli flag and the writing ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ [the People of Israel Live] be taken to the moon, but was told “it has already been taken care of.”
There are currently only four countries that have launched spacecraft to the moon, he noted. One is 800 times larger than Israel, one is 500 times larger and “one is a little less. We are a small-huge country and what there is here only attests to the beginning. This is only the beginning,” he enthused. “I hope that you are already planning the spacecraft to Mars; manned or unmanned is less important. But this only shows who our people is, what our people is, with very deep roots in our heritage, with aspirations to reach higher and higher.”
After the launch, the prime minister observed that the privilege of being present for such an event – “being first – is once-in-a-lifetime.”
The real fuel of the spacecraft, he said, is the Israeli audacity and the Israeli genius that produced it. “There are many audacious geniuses here, and congratulations to you. We are simply moved and now I know what I need to do in the next 60 days.
“This is a very proud moment. True, along with China, Russia and the US, we constitute about one-third of the world’s population, but our contribution is vast, regardless of our small size. We are giants.
What I see here at Israel Aerospace Industries, together with SpaceIL, and the entrepreneurs and leaders of the project, together with you Morris, is extraordinary spirit and enthusiasm.
“What there is here is far beyond the money and – I think – even more than the technology. There is great inspiration and daring here, and as of now great success as well. We look at the clock, another 60 days or so. We will meet on April 11 and I hope that we will be able to celebrate the safe landing of ‘Beresheet’.
“Am Yisrael chai.”