The moon's the limit, President Shimon Peres said on Thursday as he unveiled an Israeli project to get an unmanned spaceship to the moon by 2014.
If all goes according to schedule, Israel will be the third country ever to land a spacecraft on the moon, following the U.S. and Russia. The project was initiated by Space IL – a non-profit organization founded by a multidisciplinary team of Israeli space enthusiasts – Israel's sole representative in Google's Lunar X Prize contest to land an unmanned shuttle on the moon.
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The cost of competing in the project is $15 million, and each group is allowed to receive up to 10% of that from government subsidies. The majority of the money comes from donations, and Space IL has raised $3.5 million so far.
Rona Ramon, widow of the first Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died in the Columbia spaceship explosion in 2003, has been called the "mother" of this project. She spoke at the ceremony, calling the project a continuation of her late husband's pioneering legacy and a significant challenge for Israeli society.
During the ceremony on Thursday, Peres and Ramon were joined by three scientists to unveil the spaceship prototype. The model is 80cm (31 inches) wide and 80cm tall, resembling a compact laundry machine. It weighs 90kg (198 lbs) and is designed to have two 1.6m (63 inches) legs that will deploy upon landing.
"Technology is the strongest, smartest and boldest thing we posses," Peres said at the ceremony. "We are facing a revolutionary advancement for Israel's space program. It is time to fly the Israeli flag on the moon."
The prize for the winning team is $30 million, and if Israel prevails, the funds would go toward technology education for youth.
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