5 things you need to know about the Israeli moon landing
From how to watch, to the purpose of the mission, we've got you covered.
The world will be watching on Thursday, April 11 as SpaceIL's Beresheet ship will attempt to land in the moon's Sea of Tranquility, the same area where astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed exactly 50 years ago. As we prepare for the landing at 3 p.m. EST, here are five things to keep in mind...
You can watch it live
The SpaceIL control room has been monitoring the ship since it launched in late February. It has been buzzing with excitement in the days leading up to this week's landing. (Photo: Eliran Avital / SpaceIL)
The landing will be streamed live on our website. The maneuver will take place between 3 and 4 p.m. EST, which will be between 10 and 11 p.m. in Israel. The landing will begin once the ship is at an altitude of about 16 miles from the lunar surface. For the final few feet, the engine will shut down and gently free fall for the remainder of the way to the moon's surface. The entire process is expected to take approximately 20 minutes. During our interview with Yonatan Winetraub, one of the masterminds behind the mission, he revealed what he'll be doing in the final moments: "I've been practicing holding my breath."
Don't expect to see any videos of astronauts dancing or moonwalking across the lunar surface. The Beresheet – which is about the size of a small car with no seats – is an unmanned spacecraft. The extremely lightweight ship is instead carrying a time capsule on board. Inside are 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 is 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 are hoping that this "civilization backup" will remain on the moon as a record of our time on Earth. "It is very possible that future generations will find this information and want to learn more about this historic moment," said Winetraub.
It's a magnetic mission
Once it lands, the Beresheet will conduct experiments on the moon's magnetic field. Before the ship launched from Cape Canaveral in February, NASA installed a monitoring device to help gather data. The instrument, which was developed in collaboration with the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, will measure the magnetic field on and above the landing site. In addition, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which was launched almost a decade ago and currently orbits the moon, will try to capture images of the Israeli spacecraft during its landing. Equipped with an external camera, the Beresheet will also be able to broadcast video of what it's seeing back to mission control here on Earth.
It's a rideshare
Launching a ship into space can be cost-prohibitive, so the Beresheet hitched a ride aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. "It's more like a rideshare," Winetraub told us, comparing it to an Uber Pool. "There are passengers in the front seat and passengers in the back seat all going up to space." The rocket dropped off various satellites and other space equipment in addition to the Israeli spaceship. But the Falcon 9 could only take it so far. The normally three-day adventure ended up taking closer to six weeks.
Although the moon is "only" about 240,000 miles away from Earth, the Beresheet did not take a direct path. By the time it lands, and taking into account more than a dozen trips orbiting the Earth, the ship will have traveled more than 3.4 million miles.
It will make history
Israel will become only the fourth nation to ever land on the moon – after Russia, the U.S. and China. That's pretty impressive for a country about the size of New Jersey. With about $100 million in donations, it will also become the first-ever privately funded lunar landing. Instead of being funded by a government agency, the money came from tech companies, local universities and a group of dedicated philanthropists – including marine park mogul Morris Kahn, who contributed $40 million to the cause.
"The fact that we got to where we got is truly a miracle," said Kahn. "It captures the imagination."
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