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Small country, big dreams

Ariel Lenga
The Political and Economic Officer of the Consulate General of Israel in Hong Kong, Ariel Lenga

The 30th HKTDC Hong Kong Book Fair wrapped up on Tuesday, 23 July, having drawn nearly 1 million visitors to browse through the books and related materials which the exhibitors offered; a wide range of thematic events and presentations also proved a drawcard.

These included a presentation by Israel – a country just 10 times the size of Hong Kong (and much of that desert) and with a population only slightly larger – which proved it is not small when it comes to dreams. The Political and Economic Officer of the Consulate General of Israel in Hong Kong Ariel Lenga gave an engaging presentation at the fair, “Israel: Small Country, Big Dreams” in which he described the nation’s bid to make the first-ever privately funded and managed moon landing. The adventure could provide inspiration for “Sci-Fi and Mystery” books, the theme of this year’s fair.

A private organisation, SpaceIL (Space Israel) and company Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) teamed up to send a robot to the moon – which would make them the first non-government group to land a craft on the moon and put Israel in the very small club of nations that have sent a probe to the moon’s surface – the other members being the then-Soviet Union, United States and China.

Genesis

Earth and the moon
Beresheet took this picture of Earth and the moon as it approached the planned landing site

The Beresheet (“the beginning”, Genesis) project itself began in 2011 in a bid to win the Google Lunar X Prize. The Internet giant was offering US$20 million to the first privately funded team to put a robot down softly on the moon, move it at least 500 metres across the surface, and send high-resolution imagery to Earth. The competition drew interest from countries as far afield as Chile and India but in the end the prize offer expired in 2018 without a team, including the Israeli one, managing to launch a probe in time.

In addition to reaching the moon, the main goal of the project was to inspire Israel’s children and give them an interest in science and technology, Mr Lenga said, referring to the Apollo effect which drew so many American children to science at the time of the manned lunar landings half a century ago. The project certainly succeeded, spurring intense interest in the “start-up nation”, a country that is already intensely technology focused.

Beresheet also carried a device to measure the lunar magnetic field, the research focus of the mission.

The team
The team packed many unique features into the little 165-kilogram probe, including a time capsule

The SpaceIL-IAI team did not give up, however, and continued with the project, finally launching the Beresheet lander on a Space X Falcon 9 rocket in February 2019. The entire project had a budget of just US$100 million, so the lander had to share the rocket with other satellites and could not reach “escape velocity” to leave Earth’s orbit. So how did it reach the moon? With another piece of very old Israeli technology, the slingshot (as in David and Goliath).

For six weeks Beresheet steadily made its orbit around Earth more and more elliptical until the craft could be slung out of its terrestrial orbit and into lunar orbit, from where it would be able to touch down on the moon. The slingshot orbits meant Beresheet travelled 6.5 million kilometres to cover the 384,400km between Earth and the moon.

All went to plan until the probe’s final approach to the lunar surface when a communication failure prevented the braking rocket from firing, and the probe hit the moon’s surface at 500km per hour. A great disappointment, Mr Lenga said, but the team immediately said they would continue with the project.

The most recent announcement from the Beresheet project team was that they intended to go “behind the moon”, Mr Lenga said. As to whether their goal is now Mars, an asteroid or another celestial destination the team will not reveal.

“Repeating the moon journey isn’t challenging enough,” SpaceIL’s chief Morris Kahn said. The team took heart from a quote by another high-profile Jew in the world of science, Albert Einstein – “Failure is a success in progress”.

Events in focus

Beresheet’s elliptical trajectory
Beresheet’s elliptical trajectory

At the Book Fair’s closing, HKTDC Deputy Executive Director Benjamin Chau underlined the importance of seminars and other such events to the overall fair.

“This year’s Hong Kong Book Fair attracted a total of 980,000 visitors over its seven-day run,” he said. “In addition to eagerly buying books, people were keen to take part in the various on-site cultural events. For example, a seminar featuring renowned science fiction writer Ni Kuang attracted a capacity audience, showing that visitors were enthusiastic about the various activities held as part of the Book Fair.”

More than 310 cultural events were held on-site during the fair period, including “Theme of the Year: Sci-Fi and Mystery” seminars, renowned writers’ seminars, storytelling by celebrities and the International Publishing Forum. A total of more than 650 events were held in connection with the Book Fair, including activities taking place under the month-long “Cultural July” citywide campaign, drawing more than 300,000 attendees in total.

According to an on-site survey, the Book Fair and the concurrent Sports and Leisure Expo both received an enthusiastic response from local residents as well as overseas visitors, with more than 10% of attendees arriving from outside Hong Kong.

Spending rises

Ni Kuang
Renowned science fiction writer Ni Kuang addresses a packed seminar

The HKTDC commissioned an independent market research agency to conduct an on-site survey during the Book Fair, interviewing more than 820 visitors. Most respondents reported having bought printed books over the past year, spending HK$1,358 on average. The average per capita spending at the Book Fair was found to be HK$875, up 8% year-on-year. It also represents 60% of respondent’s average overall annual book spending, highlighting the fact that people are more willing to buy books while at the fair. Most respondents were drawn to the event by new releases (75%), followed by discounted items (36%) and diversified cultural activities (25%).

The Theme of the Year in 2019 was “Sci-Fi and Mystery”. Authors and works from different eras were featured at the Art Gallery’s thematic exhibition titled “A Literary Journey Across Boundless Dimensions”. Alongside some of the familiar big names, the exhibition also featured a number of brilliant new-generation writers – a mix that highlighted the openness of Hong Kong’s publishing industry and helped to engage the interest of readers of different ages and tastes.

The survey also revealed visitors’ reading habits and preferences. About 98% of respondents said they had read a printed book in the past month, spending an average of 23 hours reading which was one hour more compared with last year’s findings. The most popular genres were fiction (63%), literature (35%) and travel books (26%). Other popular genres included comics, self-improvement, language study and politics. The survey also found that nearly 70% of respondents have read e-books in the past month, spending an average of 18 hours reading.

The fair closed on Tuesday, 23 July but readers can still view videos of selected seminars on the fair website and through the HKTDC’s online video channels. The “Cultural July” citywide campaign continues until the end of this month, with a broad range of activities including arts and cultural tours, exhibitions and seminars.

Related links 
HKTDC Hong Kong Book Fair
SpaceIL

Content provided by Hong Kong Trade Development Council
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