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Professor inspires documentary

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Inspired by the novel “From the Earth to the Moon” by Jules Verne, a young Manoug Manougian set out to form the first STEM program (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in the Middle East.

As a faculty member at Haigazian College, Manougian initiated the Haigazian College Rocket Society in 1960 which replaced the school’s science club. According to Manougian, he did this because “Rocketry involves not only physics and mathematics but also involves chemistry … the reason that I picked that in addition to it being a vehicle by which one can teach these courses and make them meaningful [is] I have always had an interest in rocketry.”

The club was later renamed the Lebanese Rocket Society after it began to receive public funding. The small rockets soon developed into more sophisticated models with greater size and capabilities. Toward the end of the project many were going as far as 90 miles and as high as the thermosphere, Manougian said. When the Lebanese military’s attention was drawn to the rockets in 1966, Manougian ended the project unwilling to compromise his principles. “I am very opposed to all kinds of wars and destruction,” he said. “I’m opposed to violence of any kind and a military aspect of this project was not something I wanted to pursue.”

In 2010, film makers Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige took an interest in the story and made a documentary called “The Strange Tale of the Lebanese Space Race.” The documentary already has been shown in Canada, the United Kingdom and several European countries with it being set to premiere in France next. Manougian currently is a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and the director of the STEM Education Center at the University of South Florida.


Filed under:Arts and Sciences Mathematics and Statistics    
Author: James Hollingsworth