In what was the first privately funded mission to the moon, the Israeli lander Beresheet crashed not far from its destination.
In the decades that spacecraft and humans have been travelling to the moon, all have come with the backing of powerful governments including the US, Soviet Union and China. However, an Israeli lander called Beresheet – meaning ‘in the beginning’ in Hebrew – was hoping to break this triopoly as the first privately funded mission.
The $100m mission had set off in February aboard a SpaceX rocket with the intention of landing on the moon, taking some photographs and conducting some science experiments. However, despite a nation’s hopes being pinned to the small craft, it was revealed to have crashed on the moon’s surface.
According to the BBC, the autonomous systems designed to help Beresheet land meant the team at the control room of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) had to watch on helplessly as all communication with the craft was lost just 150 metres from the surface.
Its final images beamed back to Earth were taken during the landing process, showing the breadth of the moon’s surface that would soon become its final resting place.
So we may have come on to the moon a little too hard this time, but our tiny little country sent a spacecraft smaller than a Tuk Tuk and IT REACHED THE MOON! 🌖
— Avigail C.J. Spira 🇮🇱 (@Avigailcjm) April 12, 2019
— Israel To The Moon (@TeamSpaceIL) April 11, 2019
‘Let’s make things clear: Israel arrived on the moon’
The non-profit established to jointly run the mission with IAI, SpaceIL, still celebrated the mission, despite its tragic end.
“Let’s make things clear: Israel arrived on the moon. This is a phenomenal achievement. Until this day only seven nations had ever landed on the moon,” it said in a tweet.
“Only three of them succeeded to perform a soft landing: The USSR, US and China. Usually, by the way, not at their first attempt. This is also the first time that a private spacecraft completed this journey. A journey which will forever change the way that we perceive space travel.”
The mission’s largest backer and the person who conceived the project, Morris Kahn, was also looking on the brighter side of things. “Israel arrived on the moon and there’s an Israeli flag on the moon. Beresheet’s journey hasn’t ended here. I expect the next generation of Israelis to accomplish this journey for us.”
Offering more insight into what likely happened the craft, SpaceIL said that it is still investigating. It added that Beresheet started to lose altitude 10km above the moon’s surface at a speed of between 400kph and 500kph until communication was lost.
Among those offering their condolences – and congratulations on the attempt – was NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, who said in a statement: “Every attempt to reach new milestones holds opportunities for us to learn, adjust and progress.
“I have no doubt that Israel and SpaceIL will continue to explore and I look forward to celebrating their future achievements.”