An artist's rendering of the Beresheet's orbiting route before landing on the moon. An artist's rendering of the Beresheet's orbiting route before landing on the moon. An artist's rendering of the Beresheet's orbiting route before landing on the moon. (Photo: Courtesy SpaceIL)

Israeli spaceship enters moon's orbit, landing scheduled for April 11

The successful final maneuver of SpaceIL's Beresheet makes Israel poised to become the fourth country to ever land on the moon.

Buckle up. The next stop is the moon!

The engineering teams of SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) performed the most critical maneuver yet in their spacecraft's journey to the moon. At approximately 10:15 AM ET, they orchestrated what's known as a "lunar capture," which allows the ship to escape the Earth's orbit and enter the moon’s gravity and begin orbiting prior to landing on April 11. The control room seemed relaxed as the engineers watched the ship slam its brakes as it entered the moon's orbit. Applause erupted in the room when the news was announced.

Yonatan Winetraub is one of the three masterminds behind the SpaceIL mission. Speaking to From The Grapevine before the maneuver, he was cautiously optimistic. He admitted that, "If we fail to do this, there is a chance that we could miss the target and continue to infinity and beyond, as Buzz Lightyear said." Had the move not worked out as planned it would have marked the end of the historic mission.

"The fact that we got to where we got is truly a miracle," said Morris Kahn, who contributed about half the $100 million needed for the mission. "It captures the imagination."

The successful maneuver positioned the spacecraft on an elliptical orbit around the moon. From now until the end of next week, the ship – dubbed Beresheet, Hebrew for Genesis – will float closer and closer towards the lunar surface. Eventually it will slow down, turn off its engines, and (hopefully) gently land on the moon around midday next Thursday.

A photo of Earth taken by one of Beresheet's perimeter cameras before entering the moon's orbit. A photo of Earth taken by one of Beresheet's perimeter cameras before entering the moon's orbit. (Photo: Courtesy SpaceIL)

The Beresheet's landing site will be on the northern hemisphere of the moon in what's known as the Sea of Tranquility, the same general area as the Apollo 11 landing site. It's where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin famously took their first moon walk 50 years ago, planting an American flag onto the surface of the moon. This left some concerned that perhaps the Israeli ship would blow away Aldrin's iconic bootprint imprinted in the moon's dust. But it's important to keep in mind that this area is more than 500 miles wide, and the Beresheet ship is only about the size of a smart car. "We won’t land next to Apollo missions," Winetraub told us. "The moon is big and there is enough space for everyone."

A rendering of the Beresheet spacecraft on the surface of the moon. A rendering of the Beresheet spacecraft on the surface of the moon. (Photo: Courtesy SpaceIL)

The ship's launch in late February sparked fevered interest around the world in the upstart's efforts to become the first privately-funded mission to the moon. Sylvan Adams, a Canadian-Israeli philanthropist, was one of the final donors to sign onto the project. "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. "It's not a financially sound investment, but it has non-financial rewards that I hope will bear fruit for many years into the future."

It's the impact the moon mission is making on the next generation that is having the biggest effect on Winetraub. "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."

Winetraub continued: "Kids want to be space engineers when they grow up, and that's really touching. Because we did this mission to inspire kids. I feel that this is one of the most beautiful things of this mission."

Although the moon is "only" about 240,000 miles away from Earth, the Beresheet has not taken 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.

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Israeli spaceship enters moon's orbit, landing scheduled for April 11
The successful final maneuver of SpaceIL's Beresheet makes Israel poised to become the fourth country to ever land on the moon.