SpaceIL's Beresheet lunar lander was aboard the Space X Falcon 9 rocket as it took off from Cape Canaveral. SpaceIL's Beresheet lunar lander was aboard the Space X Falcon 9 rocket as it took off from Cape Canaveral. SpaceIL's Beresheet lunar lander was aboard the Space X Falcon 9 rocket as it took off from Cape Canaveral. (Photo: Facebook)

History-making Israeli spaceship just hitched a ride to the moon on SpaceX

The country held watch parties from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as SpaceIL's Beresheet ship took flight from Cape Canaveral.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off into the Florida sky Thursday night with a piece of history tucked inside. The rocket has made dozens of trips into space before, but this time it carried with it the collective hope of an entire nation. On board was a small ship called the Beresheet – Hebrew for "Genesis" – built by a menagerie of Israeli mavericks.

About 36 minutes after liftoff, the Beresheet detached from the Falcon 9 rocket to begin its long, solo journey to the surface of the moon. When it arrives, Israel will become only the fourth country in history to ever make a lunar landing – after Russia, the U.S. and China. Moreover, this mission represents the first time interplanetary travel has been privately funded. Donors contributed nearly $100 million to turn this dream into a reality.

The Falcon 9 rocket shortly after liftoff from Cape Canaveral. The Falcon 9 rocket shortly after liftoff from Cape Canaveral. (Photo: Courtesy SpaceX)

"I always thought we were going to get to the moon, but now it’s actually happening," remarked Yonatan Winetraub, one of the three co-founders of SpaceIL, the group behind the mission. Winetraub was joined in Cape Canaveral by his colleague Kfir Damari, while their partner Yariv Bash watched the launch from Israel.

People in Tel Aviv, Israel gathered at the Azrieli Sarona Tower to watch the launch in the middle of the night. People in Tel Aviv, Israel gathered at the Azrieli Sarona Tower to watch the launch in the middle of the night. (Photo: Courtesy StellarNova)

People gathered in their pajamas at all-night watch parties throughout Israel, where liftoff occurred at 3:45 in the morning. For Hagai Gat, a tech entrepreneur who lives just outside of Tel Aviv, staying awake to watch the launch was an easy choice. "For me it's quite simple," he told From The Grapevine. "I belong to the generation who was born during the Cold War and, as a child, I saw the collapse of the Soviet Union on TV. I grew up watching and reading about the race to the moon and have been fascinated with space ever since."


Added David Yaari, who attended a watch party with 150 other people in Tel Aviv: "History happens when others are sleeping."


About two minutes after the Beresheet separated from the Falcon 9, the SpaceIL crew back on Earth began hearing beeps from the ship in outer space. You can re-watch our coverage of the historic launch here:

The next few days will be critical as the tiny ship – about the size of a smart car – attempts the first of several maneuvers required on the journey. It will orbit the earth multiple times as it is slowly drawn closer to the moon. If everything goes as planned, the moon's gravity will eventually capture the spacecraft into its orbit. Once the ship gets within about 16 feet from the moon, the engines will turn off and the Beresheet will make a freefall onto the lunar surface.

Its first landing opportunity will be on April 11. If it misses that window, there is a small chance India might actually become the fourth nation on the moon. The Indian Space Research Organization is planning on launching its own spaceship to the moon in mid-April, and they will be taking a much faster route.

You can track the SpaceIL ship at live.spaceil.com. Watch this video to see the journey the Israeli ship will be taking for the next seven weeks.

The Beresheet will be the smallest spacecraft to ever land on the moon, at a weight of only 1,322 pounds. Israel has become so successful at making lightweight space equipment and satellites that other countries – like the U.S., Germany and France – have entered into cooperating agreements with Israeli space companies. NASA has even contracted with Israel to help it with its upcoming mission to Mars.

SpaceIL's journey to the moon is occurring in the same year as the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 mission that landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin onto the lunar surface. And like Armstrong and Aldrin, the Beresheet is going to be leaving behind a time capsule on the moon. Inside will be 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.


Winetraub is particularly hopeful that the mission will excite the next generation. "Things that would be beyond our imagination only a decade ago are now within reach," he said. "We live in an era when kids are going to be able to make their own rocket ships, or solve global warming, or clean up the oceans or whatever it is that they want to do. The technology is going to catch up with their dreams."

So now that the launch is behind him, what will Winetraub be doing on Friday? "I will be on a flight to Israel," he told us. "I want to go to the control room and see some data!"

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

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History-making Israeli spaceship just hitched a ride to the moon on SpaceX
The country held watch parties from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as SpaceIL's Beresheet ship took flight from Cape Canaveral.