During the 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union competed for supremacy in space. But little known at the time, there was another contestant in the race: the Lebanese Rocket Society, a science club from a university in Beirut and the subject of a recently released film. The BBC investigates in a radio program and this story about Manoug Magnougian and his founding the Lebanese Rocket Society:
Manougian’s passion for space began as a boy in the 1940s growing up in Jericho in the West Bank. Inspired by Jules Verne novels, he would climb the nearby Mount of Temptation and gaze at the night sky. At school he carved rockets onto his desk.
A maths and physics degree from the University of Texas followed, before Manougian returned to Lebanon for a teaching post at Beirut’s small Haigazian College at the age of 25. In an attempt to drum up numbers, in November 1960 he renamed the science club the Haigazian College Rocket Society.
“To my surprise a number of students decided to join,” he says. “I had no finances and there was little support for something like this. But I figured I could dip into my meagre salary and convince my wife that I could buy what I needed for the experiments.”
It was a successful program, albeit “in the slow lane” compared to the U.S.S.R.:
The Cedar IV launched in 1963 was so successful that it was commemorated on a stamp. It reached a height of 90 miles (145 km), putting it close to the altitude of satellites in low-earth orbit.
For those curious, below is the trailer for the film, The Lebanese Rocket Society: