6 things you need to know about the historic Israeli moon launch
How SpaceIL's ship, dubbed the Beresheet, evolved from a beer-soaked idea to an actual lunar landing.
For one brief moment this week, the world will collectively put down whatever it's doing and look up towards the heavens. In the night sky above, a tiny spacecraft named Beresheet – Hebrew for "Genesis" – will be lifting off from Cape Canaveral and into the record books.
It won't be the work of NASA or the European Space Agency, but from an upstart collective from Israel called SpaceIL. Featuring a menagerie of mavericks – including a drone maker, a cancer researcher and a water park magnate – their audacious attempt launches this Thursday night.
So why is this launch such a big deal? Read on...
It will make history
Assuming the mission is a success, 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 idea was conceived at a bar
Israeli entrepreneurs Yonatan Winetraub, Yariv Bash and Kfir Damari literally came up with the idea for their ship late at night at a bar by the Mediterranean Sea. "As the alcohol level in our blood rose, we got more and more determined to do this," Winetraub recalled during a recent interview with From The Grapevine. "And it never faded away." Nearly a decade later, that booze-filled dream has become a reality.
Google was involved in the early days
The trio of technologists first entered their idea into the Google LunarX Prize back in 2007. The Silicon Valley giant was offering $20 million to the first team that could land on the moon and send back high-definition pictures. Google extended the deadline multiple times hoping for an eventual winner, but to no avail. None of the dozens of teams who entered the contest could make it. So Google finally called off the cash competition in early 2018. But SpaceIL was just months away from finishing construction, and they kept working from a factory in Israel. The machine was finished late last year and was then shipped to Cape Canaveral in January, where it has undergone last-minute testing before the launch.
The ship is the size of a smart car
Early estimates put the Beresheet at about the size of a kitchen dishwasher, but Winetraub told us it's closer to a smart car. Which is still not that big by space standards. Indeed, it's likely the smallest spacecraft ever designed for a lunar landing. Aboard the ship will be tools to conduct scientific research on the moon, as well as a time capsule containing drawings by Israeli children and MP3 files of Israeli music. "It is very possible that future generations will find this information and want to learn more about this historic moment," Winetraub mused.
It will be getting an Uber ride into space
Launching a ship into space can be cost-prohibitive, so the Beresheet is hitching a ride aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. "It's more like a ride-share," 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 will drop off various satellites and other space equipment first and the Israeli spaceship will be the final passenger dropped off. But even then, it still has a ways to go on its own before it reaches the moon. The normally three-day adventure will take closer to two or three months. It's expected for a lunar landing around late April.
It will conduct scientific research
Besides just landing on the moon, the ship is scheduled to conduct scientific research. A retro-reflector from NASA was installed on the spacecraft, which is an instrument that reflects laser beams and will enable NASA to precisely locate the spacecraft on the lunar surface after the landing. SpaceIL, the Israel Space Agency also agreed that NASA will have access to data gathered by the magnetometer installed aboard the Israeli spacecraft. The instrument, which was developed in collaboration with Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, will measure the magnetic field on and above the landing site.
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Related Topics: Space