The Hora dance to the moon
March 8, 2019
On Feb. 21, 2019, in collaboration with Space X, NASA, and tracking facilities of other nations, an Israeli spacecraft, carrying scientific instruments to add to our knowledge of lunar science, was successfully launched into earth orbit aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
This spacecraft, named in Hebrew, “Beresheet,” meaning “Genesis,” is special. When, not if, it succeeds to soft-land on the moon in April, Israel will be in the company of the United States, Russia and China as the only nations on earth to accomplish this magnificent engineering feat. Pretty good company I would say, given the small size and population of little Israel when compared to the other three nations.
Making this flight even more spectacular is the fact that this will be the first privately designed, financed and built spacecraft ever to have landed on the moon.
The joy, enthusiasm, and sense of pride in Israel and in Jewish communities throughout the world at the successful launch was astounding. Once again, Israel has demonstrated that it is a country not to be shunned, but to be emulated if the people around the world are truly serious in advancing human progress, embracing technology, and moving toward a more peaceful globe.
I have taken particular interest in this civilian Israeli project since its inception. It was more than 50 years ago that I, as a young physicist working for the Boeing company at the Kennedy Space Center on the Apollo-Saturn Lunar Program, participated in the very first manned launch to the moon in December 1968. NASA actually asked me to tape an interview in Hebrew with Kol (Voice of) Israel, the Israeli radio station covering the launch, among more than 1,000 members of the news media from around the world.
It brought back memories of the excitement generated by the thousands of on-lookers who came from around the world to witness that launch and the launch six months later that actually landed our astronauts on the moon, in what I believe was the singular greatest scientific and engineering achievement of the 20th century.
The flight path of Genesis to its final lunar destination chosen by its developers minimizes fuel consumption and maximizes use of the respective gravitational fields of the earth and moon in order to keep payload weight down, making it one of the most efficient and cost effective spacecraft ever designed.
There is an interesting aspect to this flight that gives it a uniquely Jewish characteristic. To accomplish this minimal energy path to the moon, Genesis will circle the earth several times in a Hora-like dance of increasingly larger orbits, finally extending out to approximately 250,000 miles from earth, reaching its farthest point from earth or apogee at a precise point in space where it will be captured by the moon’s gravitation.
The tiny spacecraft will then be pulled into another Hora-like orbital dance, but this time into progressively tighter orbits and close enough to the moon to permit retrorockets to slow its dance and softly land it on the moon’s dance floor.
While there will be no one on the moon’s surface to greet the Israeli spacecraft with song and dance, be assured the words of the traditional celebratory song—sang at weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, and other Jewish simchas—“Simon tov ‘and’ mazel tov” will ring out in Israel and in Jewish communities throughout the world.
We can only hope that most of the world will recognize this worthy accomplishment and scientific contribution of the Jewish state, as well as all its other accomplishments and contributions to the world, and give it the recognition and respect it so richly deserves.
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Mel Pearlman holds B.S. & M.S. degrees in physics as well as a J.D. degree and initially came to Florida in 1966 to work on the Gemini and Apollo space programs. He has practiced law in Central Florida since 1972. He has served as president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando; was a charter board member, first Vice President and pro-bono legal counsel of the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Central Florida, as well as holding many other community leadership positions.