Israeli ship arrives at moon, but fails to nail landing
Israel became the seventh country to enter the moon's orbit during the first privately funded mission to the moon.
The Beresheet made it within feet of the moon. But that was as far as it got.
After a six-week journey from Cape Canaveral, Florida to the surface of the moon, the little ship made it as far as it could. Israel was attempting to become only the fourth country to ever land on the moon – after Russia, the U.S. and China. It would've also marked the first-ever privately funded trip to the moon. Today's landing attempt was occurring exactly 50 years after the historic one made by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in 1969.
"Condolences to the Beresheet lander," Aldrin wrote on Twitter. "It couldn't quite stick the landing. Never lose hope – your hard work, teamwork, and innovation is inspiring to all!"
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine sent his best wishes. "While NASA regrets the end of the SpaceIL mission without a successful lunar landing of the Beresheet lander, we congratulate SpaceIL, the Israel Aerospace Industries and the state of Israel on the incredible accomplishment of sending the first privately funded mission into lunar orbit," he said. "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."
Viewing parties were held around Israel and across the globe as millions watched the landing which was livestreamed online. Dr. Yael Schuster, who wrote a kids book about the Beresheet spacecraft, read from her book at a kids pajama party hosted at the home of the Israeli president. When the news of the missed landing was announced, the president quickly ran to the microphone and told the kids to have faith that Israel would send many more spacecraft to the moon.
"Oh wow," Schuster told us from the event. "It’s hard to think of something great. Everyone is a bit sad here. But the president has reminded us that we can never stop dreaming and trying, and together we can do great things."
An Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) spokesperson said: "IAI is proud to be part of this amazing journey with SpaceIL that brought us to the moon. We will continue to lead Israel to unbelievable achievements. The Beresheet effect will continue to lead the children of Israel to dream about Beresheet 2.0!"
Conceived by three entrepreneurs with little space experience late one night in a bar outside of Tel Aviv, the journey of the scrappy upstart had all the ingredients of a made-for-Hollywood story. Nearly a decade later, their booze-filled dream almost became a reality.
The project started back in 2007, when Google established the Google Lunar X Prize. It offered $20 million to the first team to land a rover on the moon and send back high-definition video. Groups from all over the world signed up, hoping to take part in this modern-day space race. In early 2018, with no team able to meet the latest deadline, Google withdrew the prize money.
Peter Diamandis, the founder of the X Prize Foundation, was at mission control in Israel for the attempted landing. He announced that his group would be giving $1 million to SpaceIL to continue their work and build Beresheet 2.0. "They touched the lives and the hearts of an entire nation – an entire world," he said.
Sylvan Adams, a Canadian-Israeli philanthropist, was one of the final donors to come on board to help fund the $100 million mission. "This is an investment in science. This is an investment in inspiring our youth to think beyond the atmosphere and beyond our planet. And this is a contribution to mankind," he told From The Grapevine during an exclusive interview in Jerusalem.
The Beresheet craft – about the size of a smart car – was made remarkably efficient, at a tiny fraction of the cost for most moon missions. That meant compromises had to be made: redundant backup systems, a standard safety precaution in space travel, were tossed in favor of crossed fingers and wishes for good luck. Moreover, the machine's engine could only be turned on for brief spurts at a time. For the most part, the Beresheet ship relied on good old-fashioned gravity to make the 239,000-mile journey from Earth to the moon.
"The space shuttle missions used to cost upwards of a billion dollars each," Adams pointed out. "Each time the space shuttle went to the International Space Station to bring another little part, it cost more than a billion dollars."
The extremely lightweight ship was carrying a time capsule aboard for the journey. Inside were three discs – each containing hundreds of digital files. Among them are drawings of the moon and space by Israeli children, MP3 files of Israeli songs, works of Israeli art and literature and photos of Israeli landscapes.
Also aboard the ship was the Lunar Library, a 30 million-page archive of human history and civilization all stored on what appears to be a typical DVD – covering all subjects, cultures, nations, languages, genres and time periods. In case anything happens to our planet, scientists were hoping that this "civilization backup" would remain on the moon as a record of our time on Earth.
Despite the missed landing, kids from around Israel have been enthralled and inspired by the mission. Atara Solow has been enjoying seeing her nine-year-old son Ori follow the Beresheet’s trip to the moon. "It's actually particularly meaningful for me to encourage him to dare, think creatively, innovate and seek to make an impact as this special country continues to do," she told us. "Who knows? Maybe one day he will be developing the next space technology."
Solow and her son stayed up late on Thursday night to watch the moon landing. "What a strong lesson for our children," Solow continued. "As Rivlin said to the kids, there's no need for disappointment. We will get there together. A great and important accomplishment that hasn't yet been completed."
It's the impact his moon mission is making on the next generation that had the biggest effect on Yonatan Winetraub, one of the three co-founders of the SpaceIL mission. "The thing that touched me the most was that I was waiting for a friend just outside a coffee shop in Israel. And there were some kids that were playing around. One of them asked me: Am I one of the people from SpaceIL? The kids recognized me and they wanted to take pictures," he told From The Grapevine.
Last month, there were parades in Israel where kids were dressed up as astronauts and strolled down the street alongside a replica of the Beresheet. "A year ago, everyone was dressed up as Wonder Woman," Winetraub said with a laugh. "So it's quite a contrast."
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Related Topics: Space