Lebanese Rocket Society, The

The Lebanese Rocket Society (PG)

In hindsight it is easy to see how and why this amazing story has slipped from the radar of history.

In the 1960s the space race was being run by the USSR and the USA as a companion piece to the increasingly chilly Cold War. Yet in the desert of Lebanon a band of academics were blasting rockets into the atmosphere in the name of science.

They called themselves the Lebanese Rocket Society. Curious, ambitious and in sync with the international space programme but with none of the finance and accoutrements they created the first rocket in the Arab world.

Chief scientist and technician Manoug Manougian, now long domiciled in America, was inspired by Jules Verne. And for a time he and his band of enthusiastic amateurs – they built their rockets from spare parts and mixed their own propellant – enjoyed a shared dream of conquering space.

But the instability of the Middle East and the watchful gaze of both the Lebanese and Israeli armed forces ensured that idealism was eventually replaced by militarism. What was once about science became about weaponry.

A fascinating tale of the little country that could and the corruption of a dream, this documentary feels like fiction. But as director and narrator Joana Hadjithomas observes, “It was not a joke”.

The Lebanese Rocket Society screens at Hyde Park Picture House, Leeds, on Sunday.

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