HARTSDALE, N.Y. -- Solomon Schechter Middle School students welcomed a team of Israeli engineers who are spearheading an effort to land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon as soon as 2015.
The lively Schechter students ended classes on Wednesday, May 28, listening to a spirited presentation then addressing a barrage of questions to Daniel Saat and Kfir Damari, who are touring the United States to build support and share their quest to put tiny Israel's first spacecraft on the moon.
SpaceIL is currently the leading contestant in the Google Lunar X Prize (GLXP) competition to reach the moon for a $20 million first prize. There are 18 teams remaining in the contest with the lone Israeli team the frontrunner.
The pioneering Israelis made an another Jewish school, Westchester Day School in Mamaroneck before coming to Hartsdale.
“By creating real-time, exciting examples of science innovation, we look to inspire kids to see themselves as part of science in the future, and thus pursue educations in science, technology, engineering, and math (S.T.E.M.),” said Damari, co-founder of SpaceIL. “We are looking to educate students all across the globe about our mission, which is why we are eager to make our Westchester debut."
Schechter eighth-graders Eitan Abecassis and Benjamin Glicksman seemed eager to learn more and hope to follow SpaceIL's journey to the moon.
"We are too young to have seen the United States landing on the moon (1969 the first time)," Glicksman said. "It is exciting to be part of this because we can follow and see that Israel might accomplish getting to the moon. I know i want to see it when it happens."
Abecassis said the fact that a small country like Israel may reach the moon is important.
"This shows the character of the people who are working so hard to reach a goal," he said. "We do have close ties with Israel in the U.S. I think it can be done."
Schechter science teacher Danny Aviv said the SpaceIL project offers a teaching moment for his students and a life lesson.
"These kids see so much in real time about the world because of the technology," Aviv said. "This program offers some perspective on major events like the moon landings of the past and how even a small nation -- Israel -- can set this goal and work toward it."
The SpaceIL program is accepting financial support for the project which will cost up to $36 million when completed. See the video on the program here.
For updates on SpaceIL, follow @teamspaceIL on Twitter or SpaceIL on Facebook.
SpaceIL also recently launched a new crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to boost funding and participation.
Damari told the students about the first moon landing nearly 45 years ago and how it inspired millions of young people to pursue careers in science. Eighth- grader Mikayla Golub said she believed the effort to reach the moon is inspiring.
"Just to listen to these men talk about reaching the moon means we can reach for what we want to do, too," Golub said. "Whatever you want to do, it takes determination."