Lebanese rocket academic’s story told in new film

The extraordinary forgotten story of a university science club which put the first Arab rockets into space is the focus of a new documentary film.

October 19, 2013

In 1961, Manoug Manougian, an academic at what is now Haigazian University in Beirut, challenged his students to help him build a rocket as a way of inspiring them with a passion for science and engineering.

Although they started with little more than fireworks and had to create their own propellant, they soon progressed to two- and then three-stage rockets which flew out across the Mediterranean and even, in one case, reached the thermosphere, now home to the International Space Station.

Such successes saw the team becoming national heroes, with an invitation to meet the president. Cedar 3, launched on Lebanese Independence Day in November 1962, was even commemorated on a postage stamp.

Rocket being prepared for launch

The army, sensing the military potential, provided funding through the Ministry of Education. Yet tensions in the region arising out of the 1967 Six Day War eventually led the French and other governments to put pressure on the Lebanese to stop the programme.

And the traumas of civil war accompanied by mass migration and huge destruction of documents meant that the whole remarkable episode slipped down the memory hole of even the Beirutis who had lived through it.

By 2001, when Paris-based Lebanese film directors Joana Hadjitomas and Khalil Joreige first heard about it, they assumed it must be “a bit of a joke or a myth”. But as they learned more, they decided they wanted to pay tribute to a group of “dreamers who also wanted to change reality”.

Rocket in flight

They contacted Professor Manougian, now close to 80 and a mathematics professor at the University of South Florida, and drew on his testimony and others to create The Lebanese Rocket Society. The film also shows how they organised a permanent memorial to his astonishing “science project” in the form of a life-size replica rocket in the grounds of the university.

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Reader's comments (1)

The byline of this article is somewhat misleading. Neither the Lebanese nor Haigazian College (now a University) are necessarily "Arab." Being Arab implies an ethic or religious connection to those who originate from the Arabian peninsula. At the time of this rocket launch, Lebanon was still a multicultural country composed of half Christian and half Muslim. Even the institution mentioned, Haigazian College was at the time primarily a Christian theological institution. Armenian evangelicals consider themselves no more "Arab" than the Coptic community in Egypt does. It would be more accurate to state that this is first rocket of the "Arab world," inferring a more regional orientation.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Assistant Recruitment - Human Resources Office

University Of Nottingham Ningbo China

Outreach Officer

Gsm London

Professorship in Geomatics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Professor of European History

Newcastle University

Head of Department

University Of Chichester
See all jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

Mitch Blunt illustration (23 March 2017)

Without more conservative perspectives in the academy, lawmakers will increasingly ignore and potentially defund social science, says Musa al-Gharbi

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

sitting by statue

Institutions told they have a ‘culture of excluding postgraduates’ in wake of damning study