Apollo moonwalker Buzz Aldrin visited Israel recently to spread the gospel of sending people to the planet Mars. While he was there, he paid tribute to SpaceIl, the Israeli competitor that aims to put a rover on the moon as part of the Google Lunar XPrize. Thus a living embodiment of NASA’s most glorious mission praised an example of the new era of private Space exploration in the most unlikely of countries to be reaching for the moon.

Aldrin said of the Israeli moon shot effort, “I think that we will have a special celebration when SpaceIL becomes the first of the Google Lunar XPrize to use ingenuity and innovativeness, and that is what I think Israel is most famous for.”

Aldrin may have spoken a little too soon.

While SpaceIl is considered one of the frontrunners in the Google Lunar XPrize, having acquired a launch contract courtesy of SpaceX, a group based in the second man to walk on the moon’s home country, Moon Express, also has a ticket to the lunar surface, on a new Rocket Lab Electron rocket. However, besides getting the cash prize and the glory of being the first private group on the moon, the motives of the two rivals could not be more different.

Moon Express is attempting to start a business that ultimately would see mining Earth’s nearest neighbor for its valuable resources, with national pride not entering into it.

SpaceIL is a one shot, national project intended to inspire Israel’s youth to pursue careers in the STEM fields and to showcase Israel’s technological prowess to the world. The Jewish state has become the venue of a high-tech revolution which, along with the discovery of natural gas fields offshore, is causing its economy to take off even as it still has to contend with enemies that want to destroy it close at hand.

The feat of landing on the moon will inspire Israel's friends and awe its enemies.

Aldrin also mentioned that the lunar mission, if it comes off, would be a fitting tribute to Ilan Ramon, the Israeli astronaut who died aboard the space shuttle Columbia when it broke up in the skies over Texas.

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