spaceIL

Last month I reported on SpaceIL, a non-profit NGO that wants to put the first-ever Israeli spacecraft on the moon. As a participant in Google’s Lunar X Prize competition, SpaceIL will receive $20 million if it’s the first to land a privately-funded unmanned robotic spacecraft safely on the moon, move it 500 meters across the lunar surface, and send back high-definition video and images.

Now this week SpaceIL has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help make Israel’s lunar dreams come true, looking to raise $240,000, or one buck for every mile to the moon.

In this era of crowdfunding scams, particularly on Indiegogo, this campaign may seem like little more than a way to milk some cash for what may be a pipe dream. After all, a moon mission is a multi-million dollar endeavor. But for SpaceIL, the Indiegogo campaign is just one of many funding sources it’s found to bankroll its ambitious trip. Daniel Saat, SpaceIL’s director of business development told me last month that the company has already raised $22 million of its $36 million budget, all from donors, foundations, and corporate sponsors with ties to Israel.

This is SpaceIL’s first big attempt to raise money outside of the tiny startup nation and so far the campaign has pulled in $25,810 in just three days. That said, SpaceIL still holds special appeal to those invested in the economic success of Israel. Saat’s pitch involves positioning the mission as an agent for igniting an “Apollo Effect” in Israel, a reference to the spike in technical PhDs that occurred in the US at the height of the space race.

After speaking to Saat, I was impressed with SpaceIL’s operation. It’s developing a one-of-a-kind wheel-less spacecraft that reuses its propulsion system to essentially “hop” across the lunar surface. This makes it about one-third as heavy as traditional rovers and drastically reduces the cost of the entire mission. (Saat says the most the competing X Prize teams have budgets within the $50 million to $100 million range).

Of course no matter how lean and novel the project is, and no matter how impressive its investment and engineers are, blasting an object the size of a smart car out of our atmosphere with a vibrational force that could melt a human body then landing it safely 240,000 miles away is incredibly, incredibly hard. Donors should be aware that the rewards, like a personal engraving on the spacecraft or a special emailed photo from space, may never appear.

But for a literal “moonshot” campaign like this, it’s not about the little Indiegogo rewards — it’s about potentially playing a small role in making history. And from SpaceIL’s perspective, sure, every small bit of investment helps. But $240,000 is only a drop in the bucket compared to, say, the $16.4 million the company received from the family of US casino magnate and major Republican Party contributor Sheldon Adelson.

The real benefit of the Indiegogo campaign seems to be more about chasing that “Israeli Apollo Effect.” By capturing the hearts, minds, and, yes, the dollars of small-time donors, SpaceIL may be able to rally a community around SpaceIL’s mission so that, if it’s successful, the success will be felt not only by SpaceIL and its big money benefactors, but by the citizens of Israel who had a hand, however small, in making this a reality.