Beresheet was the Start-Up Nation at its best.

Yes, the spacecraft reached the Moon, but it crash-landed, ending any contact with its handlers and any ability to have it serve experimental purposes from the Moon’s surface.

Written by Douglas Altabef

It wasn’t supposed to end this way. According to the Hollywood scenario we all tuned in to watch, little Israel was about to become the kosher mouse that roared. David would take his place alongside the three Goliath superpowers that had previously succeeded in landing a spacecraft on the Moon.

Our newly re-elected prime minister was on hand, greeting and congratulating Morris Kahn, the lead investor in Space IL, and all the engineers and scientists who were about to bring the project to this amazing conclusion.

Israel’s Beresheet spacecraft snapped this selfie shortly before crash-landing on the moon on April 11, 2019. (Image: © SpaceIL/IAI)

And then reality bit. As we were transfixed on the gauges showing the rapid approach of the spacecraft to the Moon’s surface, something went wrong. The gauges froze as the craft was about 150 meters from the ground while the announcer said there was engine failure.

After a back-and-forth exchange about communications and engine failures and restarts, it was reported in the most matter-of-fact way that the landing had not succeeded.

Yes, the spacecraft reached the Moon, but it crash-landed, ending any contact with its handlers and any ability to have it serve experimental purposes from the Moon’s surface.

It took a few seconds to digest what had taken place. We had failed. There would be no pictures from the Moon, no selfies of the spacecraft at rest on the lunar surface. So much brain power, effort, hope and yes, money, and it all ended with a thud.

But then a more profound reality took over. While I was expecting to see scientists with heads bent, or engineers consoling each other, I witnessed a scene I could not have imagined.

A child’s drawing about space included in the time capsule inserted into the Beresheet spacecraft. (Courtesy)

There was joy, there was pride, and there were congratulations. The amazing Morris Kahn, indefatigable at 89, said with a joyful lilt in his voice, “Well, we didn’t succeed, but we have a lot to be proud of.” The prime minister, so fluent in the nuances of the English language, reminded us that if at first we don’t succeed, try, try again. And then he promised that Israel would.

There was applause, there was back-slapping and of course “Hatikvah” was sung. Watching all of this, I realized that I was seeing the embodiment of why Israel has become the Start-Up Nation, and why it is poised to be a Light unto the Nations.

What I saw were people who realized that they had created something magnificent and unprecedented. It performed brilliantly right up to, but not including the end. The glass was three-quarters full, despite a disappointing conclusion.

But look what we had learned, accomplished and inspired along the way.

HERE’S THE real point: The end of the mission was a blessing in disguise. It was a gift that will yield benefits far greater than the hoped-for success would have brought.

One of the salient characteristics of the Start-Up Nation is to see the benefits, the blessings of failure. Failure teaches us, chastens us, but does not ruin us.

As I watched the opening remarks from the project director as he held a drawing of the Moon’s surface made by an Auschwitz inmate, I knew that this was not going to just be about the science. Beresheet was about the renascence of the Jewish people, the spirit of the people of Israel, and a tribute to the will and determination of a group of men and women who had risen to a challenge.

None of this was compromised by the failure of the spacecraft to land other than with a flying face-flop.

A friend asked me if I thought there was a decent ROI, “return on investment” of the $100 million spent. We both concluded that the return was immense, and would be even greater precisely for having not fulfilled the mission – yet.

One of the major goals of the project was to inspire young Israelis to fall in love with space travel, aeronautics, and more generally, STEM: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Beresheet ended like the last episode of the first season of a serialized thriller. So close and yet so far. Wait till next year. We will be back.

If Beresheet had succeeded, we would have shed a few tears of joy, drunk a l’chaim and gone home. But now we take stock to appreciate the the value of what we did accomplish, resolve to go on, finih the job and go from there. How exciting is that for a searching young mind?

I will admit that I did shed a few tears that night, not of sorrow or disappointment, but of awe and pride. I felt inspired and humbled by these super-dedicated men and women who saw the good in what they had done and resolved to keep at it.

What a message this is to our children and to ourselves! Ironically, it was a superb night for Israel and for the human spirit. May we all be blessed to see our lives as works in progress, internalizing the good and resolving to correct our shortcomings.

What a handful of visionaries started should be embraced by all of us. We are all Project Beresheet now.

To the Moon and beyond!

——–

Written by Douglas Altabef , chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu and a director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at dougaltabef@gmail.com.

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