If someone told you that during the 60′s, rocket science was an emerging area of research in Lebanon, would you believe them? I know I wouldn’t.
What if they told you that the rocket science research was so advanced that it captured the attention of all the regional espionage of that era; and was considered to be a threat to countries such as Egypt, Israel and Syria? Personally, I would assume they got their hands on some Lebanese Red.
Well, it turns out that I underestimated the Lebanese scientists and just gave the outlawed hashish farmers in northern Lebanon a free advertisement…..
Believe or not, it seems that Lebanon did indeed witness some serious rocket science research and testing during the 60′s and had a very active Rocket Science Society. Led by Armenian-Palestinian refugee Manoug Manougian, professor at Haigazian University, the society designed and launched the first Arabic rocket into space and a total of 10 rockets between 1960 and 1967. The apogee of the program was Cedar IV, launched in 1964 emblazoned with the Lebanese flag, was capable of reaching an altitude of 200 kilometers, about the distance of the International Space Station from Earth. Cedar IV became a symbol of national pride and a postage stamp was released to coincide with its launch.
It is this stamp that led Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige to dig into the uncelebrated history of this society and inform the Lebanese of an era of dreams, hope and possibilities.
“When we started this project, it was 2009 and the region was in a depression. We needed dreamers, people like Manoug Manougian,” Hadjithomas explains.
“The film opens with a question: Why does no one remember this space programme?” says Joreige. “At first, we thought it was because there were not enough images, but we managed to find so many.”
Joana and Khalil did not suffice to collecting images and newspaper article about that program, but went further to re-enact the transportation of Cedar IV through the streets of Beirut using their white reproduction, which had been erected as a monument in Haigazian University.
While the Lebanese Rocket Society was pressured to cease operations under pressure from Israel and growing interest from the military to embezzle the projectile discovery, the potential for Lebanon to reach out for outer-space faded even more as the civil war broke and different kinds of rockets conquered its skies.
Thinking of the whole story as a hoax at first, I later rebuked myself for doubting the Lebanese and their potential to conquer the skies and shoot for the outer-space. It made me realize how far we have strayed from what we can reach for as a country and how our current misery has skewed our history and tarnished our dreams.