After eight years of preparations costing $100 million, Israeli spacecraft Beresheet is poised to make history on Thursday when it reaches the moon. The privately funded lunar lander will face its biggest challenge during the landing maneuver, the last stage of the journey controlled solely by the spacecraft’s computer.
Beresheet’s historic launch was a month ago. Since then, the spacecraft has traversed four million miles to get to the moon, among the longest distances ever traveled. The vehicle is set to attempt its landing tonight at 22:00 Israel time (15:00 EST).
If the spacecraft completes its mission, Israel will be the fourth nation to reach the moon — following the United States, Russia, and China. Aside from the accomplishment of reaching the moon, Beresheet it outfitted with equipment that will measure the magnetic properties of the moon’s rocks.
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 pictures before the mission ends two days later.
At the beginning of March, controllers successfully activated the spacecraft’s engines for four minutes, after technical difficulties had prevented the maneuver earlier in the mission. A week later, Beresheet transmitted a selfie of itself with the Earth in the background from 23,400 miles from home.
The privately funded lunar lander was developed by the SpaceIL non-profit organization in cooperation with Israel Aerospace Industries for the low-budget cost of $100 million. The project grew out of SpaceIL’s participation in the Google Lunar XPrize competition.
Morris Kahn, the founder of SpaceIL, told BBC News: “The landing will be extremely challenging.
“But we’ve got good engineers, the spacecraft has responded well to our instructions over the last two months (…) I’m reasonably confident but a little nervous.” The touchdown process will take about 20 minutes, team members said.
[Photo: John Brighenti / Flickr]