Israel’s first moon mission successfully launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 missile from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Thursday night, Reuters reported. If the mission is successful, Israel will join the prestigious group of only three countries that have so far landed on the moon: Russia, the United States, and China.
The spacecraft went into orbit at a velocity of 22,000 miles per hour at about 8:45 p.m. EST, after what Reuters described as a “textbook” disengagement from the launch missile.
It will take nearly two months for the unmanned robotic spacecraft, called Beresheet – Hebrew for Genesis or “in the beginning,” to reach the moon, with an anticipated touchdown on April 11. A direct flight path from Earth to the moon would cover roughly 240,000 miles, but Beresheet will follow a more circuitous route.
The privately funded lunar lander, which is about the size of a washing machine, was developed by the SpaceIL non-profit organization in cooperation with Israel Aerospace Industries for the low-budget cost of $100 million. It was part of three sets of cargo carried aloft by the Falcon 9 as part of the private rocket fleet of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk.
“We thought it’s about time for a change, and we want to get little Israel all the way to the moon,” said Yonatan Weintraub, co-founder of Israel’s SpaceIL. “We’ll keep analysing the data, but bottom line is we entered the very exclusive group of countries that have launched a spacecraft to the moon,” added Yigal Harel, head of SpaceIL’s spacecraft program.
Throughout the mission, Beresheet will transmit data to the control room in Israel. The spacecraft will collect lunar data and deposit a time capsule that includes children’s drawings, the Bible, and Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Beresheet is also set to place the Israeli flag on the lunar surface and take some snaps before the mission ends two days later.
Before the launch, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “This evening, I would like, first of all, to honor the memories of Ilan, Rona and Asaf Ramon. This attests to Israeli heroism. A marvelous thing is happening here. While this is a great step for Israel, it is a huge step for Israeli technology.”
He added: “Several hours ago I said that the State of Israel is a rising global power, to the moon. This is a great achievement and it is very moving. I asked that a Tanakh [Hebrew Bible], an Israeli flag and the writing ‘Am Yisrael Chai‘ [the People of Israel Live] be taken to the moon. They told me ‘It’s OK. It has already been taken care of.’ This is something that it was possible only to dream about.”
[Photo: @TeamSpaceIL / Twitter ]