Science isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you think of Lebanon. Science is just a gutted school subject with integral parts omitted to suit religious insecurities. It’s only a gateway bachelor’s degree to becoming a doctor. It’s only an engineering degree to be able to work for a consulting firm. You get the idea.
But, there was a time when Lebanese scientists mattered in the world and not as part of foreign science teams and labs, but in Lebanon’s own backyard. Manoug Manougian and a small group od his students at Haigazian University successfully launched 10 rockets in the 1960s. In 1964, Cedar IV reached the Thermosphere, 145 kilometer high, where the International Space Station now orbits the Earth.
Imagine, a Lebanese space program which was a viable competitor in the infamous 1960s Space Race between the USA and the Soviet Union. The Lebanese program was so successful, that “cultural attaches” were sent from both superpowers to oversee the launches and research. The Lebanese Army also got on board and helped produce the 6.8-meter rocket that sent Lebanese scientists’ dreams into orbit.
Of course, Lebanon is cursed with bad neighbors and everlasting restless times. Israel and Syria weren’t too happy the weapon-like rockets had a range that could infiltrate deep into neighboring countries. The US and USSR weren’t too happy either that a tiny speck of a country and an unofficial group of independent scientists could keep up with their mammoth, government-run and funded space programs.
So, regional instability, international pressure and sparse resources probably led to the disbanding of The Lebanese Rocket Society in 1966. What’s surprising is how we all completely forgot about it as a country and people. I would’ve never though anything remotely similar could’ve ever happened in Lebanon! If it weren’t for a few articles I stumbled upon by mistake and later on the work of Lebanese artists Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, I and most other Lebanese folks and science enthusiasts around the world would’ve never known…
So, much respect and thanks to these two artists, who debuted their film in the Toronto International Film Festival this year and by doing so, have hopefully immortalized the short-lived, but very sky-rocketing Lebanese Space Program in their 93 minute documentary.
Read more about The Lebanese Rocket Society
- New Scientist (first time I stumbled across this forgotten piece of history, back in 2011)
- The Hollywood Reporter
- Toronto International Film Festival 2012
- Al-Akhbar English
Here’s the trailer of the movie, it made my eyes water towards the end… I’m sorry, but science matters a lot to me