The spaceship was driven from the factory to Israel's Ben Gurion Airport, where it was packed into a cargo plane. The spaceship was driven from the factory to Israel's Ben Gurion Airport, where it was packed into a cargo plane. The spaceship was driven from the factory to Israel's Ben Gurion Airport, where it was packed into a cargo plane. (Photo: Eliran Avital)

Israeli spaceship arrives at Cape Canaveral ahead of historic mission

If successful, Israel will become only the fourth country to ever land on the moon.

A trip to the moon, it seems, begins with a trip to Florida.

Israel is attempting to become the fourth country to ever successfully land on the moon – after the U.S, Russia and China. And they hope to accomplish this with a dishwasher-sized unmanned spacecraft. The ship comes courtesy of an Israeli startup called SpaceIL. If they are successful, it will be the first privately funded mission to the moon – one not operated by a governmental agency like NASA.

The ship – nicknamed Beresheet, which is Hebrew for Genesis – made its way from Israel to the United States this week. Watch the video below to see the spacecraft being prepared for shipment as it left the Israeli facility:

Beresheet and several members of an Israeli delegation arrived in Florida where the ship will be delivered to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. If all goes as planned, and the weather cooperates, the craft will hitch a ride into space piggybacked to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket sometime in mid-February.

The road to Cape Canaveral has been a long and winding road for the upstart SpaceIL. It began back in 2007 when the Google X Prize was established. The Silicon Valley tech giant was offering $20 million to the first team to land a rover on the moon and send back high-definition video. Teams from all over the world signed up, hoping to take part in this literal space race.

The brainchild of three Israeli entrepreneurs – Yonatan Winetraub, Kfir Damari and Yariv Bash – the group excelled in the competition, quickly separating itself from the pack by becoming one of the top three teams. (Bash played double duty during this time, also launching a company that makes drones that deliver burgers to golfers.) As the contest waged on, Google had to keep pushing back the deadline to allow more time for the teams to work. In early 2018, with no team able to meet the latest deadline, Google withdrew the prize money.

But SpaceIL was so close to finishing the project, only months away from completion. They decided to keep going, and that bet paid off.

“After eight years of hard work, our dream has come true: We finally have a spacecraft,” said SpaceIL CEO Ido Anteby. “Shipping the spacecraft to the United States is the first stage of a complicated and historic journey to the moon. This is the first of many exciting moments, as we look forward to the forthcoming launch in Cape Canaveral.”

The trip is more than just a history-making venture. It's deeply rooted in scientific research, drawing on expertise from a wide array of Israeli schools – including Tel Aviv University, the Technion Institute, the Weizmann Institute of Science and Ben-Gurion University. Once it lands, it will conduct experiments on the moon's magnetic field. NASA recently installed some of its own monitoring devices onto the ship as well. Equipped with an external camera, the craft will also be able to broadcast video of what it's seeing back to mission control here on Earth. "The educational activity we are doing around the mission sets the foundation for engineers who will work in the field of space and science in the next decade," explained Ofir Akunis, Israel's Minister of Science, Technology and Space.

There will also be a time capsule aboard the Beresheet consisting of three discs – each containing hundreds of digital files. Among them will be drawings by Israeli children, MP3 files of Israeli songs and photos of Israeli landscapes. “This is a very emotional moment," said SpaceIL co-founder Winetraub as he inserted the time capsule into the ship before it left Israel. "We do not know how long the spacecraft and the time capsule will remain on the moon. It is very possible that future generations will find this information and want to learn more about this historic moment.”

Businessman and philanthropist Morris Kahn contributed $40 million to the mission, nearly half the total funds needed for such a mission. “The excitement we all feel today will only intensify moving forward, and I can’t wait for the next milestone,” he said as the ship arrived in Florida. “This is only the beginning.”

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Israeli spaceship arrives at Cape Canaveral ahead of historic mission
If successful, Israel will become only the fourth country to ever land on the moon.