Israel's first lunar lander launched into space from Florida

Gwen Vasquez
February 22, 2019

The launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, will carry the first private mission to the moon: a 1,300-pound lunar lander called "Beresheet".

A time capsule is aboard the lander - which includes a picture of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died aboard space shuttle Columbia in 2003 - as well as a lunar library containing 30 million pages on a disk from the US -based Arch Mission Foundation. The first soft landing on the moon came in 1966; executed by both the both Russian Federation and the United States; there was not another unmanned soft landing until China launched Chang'e 3 in 2013.

The spacecraft will also plop the Israeli flag on the lunar surface and take some snaps before the mission ends two days later. The lander, whose name is Hebrew for "Genesis", began a two month journey to the moon using its own propulsion.

Israel's state-owned satellite manufacturer Israel Aerospace Industries built the Beresheet lander.

SpaceX is now testing a system to recover the fairings of its Falcon 9 rockets.

SpaceIL said it hoped Beresheet would help inspire Israel's defence-focused space program to pursue more science missions by way of an "Apollo effect", referring to the manned lunar exploration program that became NASA's chief objective in the 1960s and early '70s.

The Falcon 9 rocket will thrust Beresheet into a "long and complex" Earth orbit where it will spend roughly five weeks gradually widening its orbit until it is close enough to enter the moon's gravitational field. Falcon 9 will also deliver the Beresheet lunar spacecraft and Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) S5 spacecraft to orbit.

"We thought it's about time for a change, and we want to get little Israel all the way to the moon", said Yonatan Winetraub, co-founder of Israel's SpaceIL, a nonprofit organization behind the effort.

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Watch the mission unfold live here.

The mission will be the third for Falcon 9's reusable first stage, which was already used in July and October.

The launch was the second of the year for SpaceX. This is what makes NASA's offer to track the spacecraft with its Deep Space Network and lunar orbiters so valuable.

Following liftoff, SpaceX recovered the first-stage booster, which flew twice a year ago.

Beresheet is created to spend just two to three days using on-board instruments to photograph its landing site and measure the moon's magnetic field.

As one of the commenters on a YouTube clip of the launch noted, look how much tiny, resource-strained Israel has managed to achieve in the short 70 years of its modern existence?

Musk said the booster will fly a fourth time in April, during a launch abort test of the new crew Dragon capsule.

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