Since the U.S. circled the moon with Apollo 8 in 1968 and landed there in 1969, only two other nations have reached the lunar surface. But now, Israel hopes to be the fourth. The Times of Israel's Melanie Lidman reports that hopes are high for the Israeli Beresheet (meaning Genesis) spacecraft that successfully launched last night:
Liftoff happened exactly on schedule at 3:45 a.m. Israel time, prompting a raucous cheer from the cafeteria at Israel Aerospace Industries, where 500 employees and their families gathered to watch the launch of Israel’s historic lunar mission.
Israel hopes to become the fourth country in the world to land a spacecraft on the moon, with the launch of the unmanned spacecraft Beresheet from Florida’s Cape Canaveral on Friday. If successful, the 160-kilogram (350 pounds without fuel), four-legged spacecraft, about the size of a car, will also be the smallest and cheapest spacecraft to land on the moon...
At 4:23 a.m., another cheer went up as the command center in Yehud, where Israel Aerospace Industries is headquartered, received the first data from Beresheet as the spacecraft prepared to separate from the rocket. At 4:25 a.m., Beresheet separated from the Falcon 9 rocket that launched it into space, successfully deploying its landing legs in the first test of its ability to function under its own power. The spacecraft will now travel about for seven weeks before reaching the moon on April 11.
Exhausted but happy engineers posed for selfies with a larger-than life balloon replica of the spacecraft before heading home.
The $100 million (NIS 370 million) spacecraft is a joint venture between private companies SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, funded almost entirely from private donations from well-known Jewish philanthropists including South African billionaire Morris Kahn, Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, Canadian real estate mogul Sylvan Adams, and others.
Previously, Russia (as the Soviet Union) and the United States have landed on the moon. China landed an unmanned spacecraft on the far side of the moon in 2013.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was also at the command center for the launch, blessed the initiative, calling it “a big step for Israel, and a big step for Israeli technology...”