Israeli engineers meet President Rivlin at his Jerusalem residence
Israeli engineers meet President Rivlin at his Jerusalem residenceMark Neiman/GPO

An Israeli team of engineers became the first to advance in a Google-sponsored space contest to send a private spacecraft to the moon on Wednesday, in a special ceremony held in President Reuven Rivlin's residence. 

The Google Lunar XPrize contest offers a prize of $20 million to the first team who succeeds in accomplishing three tasks: completing a soft landing without crashing, traveling 500 meters over the lunar surface and sending videos and still images back to Earth. So far, only three countries have landed a spacecraft on the moon - China, the US and the former Soviet Union.

Israeli organization SpaceIL has signed a contract with American manufacturer SpaceX to send an unmanned vehicle to the moon, completing the terms of the contract, according to PhysOrg - and meriting the President's welcome. 

"I remember as a child, the greeting that appeared on gum wrappers, 'by the time you turn 21 you will reach the moon'," Rivlin reflected at the special event Wednesday afternoon. "At the time it seemed impossible, but you have turned it into a reality."

"For hundreds of thousands of students who have already been exposed to your project and millions who have yet to be exposed to it, your company is a model of courage, success, and a vision of Israeli innovation. I wish you much success."

During the event, the new spaceship model, which is adorned with the Israeli flag and inscribed with the words 'long live Israel', was unveiled.

"This is another step for mankind, but the giant step for the State of Israel," Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis said. "I feel great pride in knowing that the Israeli flag will reach the moon, and with it the inscription 'long live Israel' which is imprinted on the spacecraft."

The event was attended by the President of the XPrize Foundation, Mr. Robert Weiss, the founder of SpaceIL Yariv Bash and SpaceIL CEO Dr. Eran Privman.