Israel Just Made Space History with a Lunar Lander Named Beresheet
Conjuring fond memories of the 1969 lunar landing, SpaceX successfully launched the first privately funded lunar mission and a little lunar lander named Beresheet is making history.
On Thursday evening Feb. 28, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket roared off the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying the little lunar lander called Beresheet. It successfully left the Falcon 9 about 30 minutes after launch and has now begun its long journey to the moon. The four landing legs have already deployed, and despite a computer glitch detected on Monday, the spacecraft is successfully carrying out key maneuvers.
Beresheet will make consecutively bigger complex orbital loops around the Earth to pick up speed until it gets close enough to the lunar surface to be captured by the moon’s gravity. Then, the spacecraft will make another set of lunar maneuvers in preparation for its historic moon landing on April 11 at the Sea of Serenity.
Israel’s Decade-Long Dream
The lander has been the dream of Israel-based nonprofit SpaceIL for nearly a decade. SpaceIL was one of Google’s original Lunar XPrize teams and kept working even after the Google competition ended in 2018 with no winner. SpaceIL has worked closely with Israel’s largest aerospace contractor IAI on the lander’s design and build. Now, the small nation has the distinction of being the first of the 30 Google teams to make its way to the moon. Israel joins a select club with only three other nations to reach for the moon: the United States, Russia and China.
Beresheet is the first privately funded lunar mission; billionaires Morris Kahn, SpacdL’s president, and Sheldon Adelson, casino magnate, have contributed about $67 million of the $100 million price tag. Still, the mission is being done for just a fraction of the price tag of the billions the other nations have spent to get there.
Weather Obstacles and Lunar Selfies
Despite poor weather conditions the launch succeeded. The massive size of the Falcon 9 makes the small five-foot-wide Beresheet lander look even smaller. Beresheet, Hebrew for “in the beginning” or “genesis” is about the size of a washing machine. SpaceIL chose the name to depict Israel’s “genesis for a golden age of involvement in space.”
Beresheet is designed to send the first ever “lunar selfie” image back to Earth, thus fulfilling one of Google’s XPrize original requirements. It will send other images, as well, and will also leave a time capsule on the lunar surface. That capsule contains specially designed discs that have stored digital files as a “backup” to show humanity’s progress; among oodles of data is a full copy of Wikipedia.
Beresheet will also conduct a scientific experiment to measure the surrounding magnetic field while transmitting that data back to Earth. The Israeli team says the journey is just as important as the destination, and they hope they have inspired Israel’s next generation as well as people around the world to study math, science and engineering technology.