Bible Blast-off: Netanyahu's Order for Israel's Lunar Mission

Netanyahu asked the science minister to make sure the spacecraft will carry a Hebrew bible. Little does the prime minister know, the ship already contains one – on a flash drive

Israeli spacecraft 'Beresheet' is loaded onto a plane to be flown to NASA's base in Florida.
Eliran Avital

The first Israeli spacecraft scheduled to land on the moon has several goals: carrying out scientific tests on the moon; advancing the Israeli space industry thanks to the technological achievement of landing on the moon; and a potential "Apollo Effect" in Israel encouraging young people to take an interest in scientific subjects. The spacecraft, Beresheet ("Genesis" in Hebrew), is even the subject of a children's book that was recently published.

At Sunday's cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also acknowledged the importance of the launch, which is set to take place in two weeks. "This important project," said Netanyahu, "places Israel alongside the world's great powers. I think that all of us, Israeli citizens, can be proud. We are turning Israel into a rising international power, in both senses."

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The prime minister and the science minister went on to detail what Beresheet will contain. Netanyahu: "Is the spacecraft carrying a Bible?" Akunis: "The spacecraft, I asked that it be placed inside the flash drive. That was my choice. The Bible. I hope that Morris" – the science minister turned to Morris Kahn, the president of SpaceIL, who provided a major part of funding for the project, whose cost is estimated at $100 million – "that you took care of that and put it in, because they put in … " The prime minister interrupted him: "If not, you have two weeks to do it." Akunis: "That's right." Netanyahu: "Please do it." Akunis: "The most important thing."

Yes, the prime minister and the science minister can relax. The spacecraft's engineers don't have to hasten to find room in the spacecraft – which is already at the NASA launching site in Cape Canaveral, Florida, in preparation for the launching – for a flash drive containing the Bible.

As Akunis was apparently trying to explain before the prime minister interrupted him, the spacecraft is already carrying a time capsule that will contain national, historical and cultural symbols, such as the Israeli Declaration of Independence, Israeli songs, a collection of drawings by Israeli children and other things collected in recent years from the general public.

The capsule is part of an educational initiative to increase public awareness of the Israeli space program and to encourage the "Apollo Effect" – and yes, a Hebrew Bible was also included on the list.

The science minister was asked a few weeks ago by the organizers of the initiative what he wanted the capsule to contain, and his answer was a Bible (which was already on the list). In addition, in case there is is additional concern about the spiritual welfare of the spacecraft on the journey, the capsule also includes "tefillat haderekh" – the Traveler's Prayer.

But it does seem that the science minister did not fully understand how the capsule works.  It's not a flash drive (which probably wouldn't survive the flight), but three special disks coated with a material called Kapton, which will enable them to withstand the conditions of a moon landing.

The spacecraft is scheduled to take off in the second half of February on the rocket launcher Falcon 9, part of Elon Musk's SpaceX, along with other satellites.

A time capsule, intended to travel to the moon with an Israeli unmanned spacecraft in early 2019, is seen during a presentation to the media on December 17, 2018.
REUTERS/Amir Cohen

At Cape Canaveral, the spacecraft is undergoing a series of "medical tests," an examination of all the subsystems, as well as "countdown" tests, testing various processes that the spacecraft is expected to undergo during the launching process, in full synchronicity with the launch vehicle. In addition, an examination of the propulsion and fuel system's impermeability has been completed, and the fueling of the spacecraft has begun.