The strange tale of the Lebanese space race

Posted filed underLebanon, Menasa, Science, Shows.


A match for US and Soviet rocket programmes of the 1960s. As Yuri Gagarin made orbit, the US and Soviet Union faced competition from an unexpected quarter – an exhibition in the United Arab Emirates shows how. (Image: Haigazian University Files)

“Lebanese Rocket Society: Elements for a monument” is probably the most unusual and also the most interesting show at the Sharjah Biennial 10 right now. It’s not exactly an art show, but a fascinating look at a space program nobody has ever heard of and also a proof that the arab world was very much able to compete with the US and the the Soviets in the race to the moon.

Read this fascinating story over at the New Scientist: “LET me take you back to 1960. It is three years after the launch of Sputnik 1 and Manoug Manougian is a young mathematics and physics lecturer at Haigazian College in Beirut, Lebanon, with a fascination for rocketry.

At a time when the global focus was on space exploration, 25-year-old Manougian decided to harness this excitement to teach science and mathematics. Gathering together a group of like-minded students, he formed a small rocketry society and began to experiment with solid rocket fuels at a farm belonging to the family of one of the students.

By April 1961, they were ready to launch their first rocket, an event that garnered a good deal of attention. The Lebanese military became involved, and the enterprise expanded to become the Lebanese Rocket Society. Foreign powers also became interested: the US and Soviet Union both sent cultural attaches to visit, and suspicions arose that Manougian’s work was being monitored by foreign agents.

The launches were remarkably successful. One even made it into the thermosphere – now home to the International Space Station- reaching an altitude of 145 kilometres.

Yet the project disbanded in 1966 and has since slipped into obscurity. ”

Read on at New Scientist

Exhibition Information
Lebanese Rocket Society: Elements for a monument
by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige
Sharjah Biennial 10, Sharjah Art Foundation, United Arab Emirates
16 March to 16 May 2011

Links:
- Haigazian University: HU produced the 1st rockets shot in the Arab world
- Wikipedia – The Arz missiles (Arabic: صواريخ أرز‎) are a series of missiles developed by Haigazian College and the Lebanese army during the 1960s.

And how could we end this post without mentioning the extremely funny story of the Old Negro Space Program one more time. Here we go again.