On Thursday, Israel launched a rocket into space, hoping to become the fourth country in the world to make a soft landing on the moon. Funded by the Israeli company SpaceIL, the unmanned, 1,300 pound craft, called “Beresheet,” which is the first word in the Bible and means “in the beginning,” rocketed into space from Florida's Cape Canaveral. “Beresheet” was perched on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket; The New York Times reported that the rocket also carried an Indonesian communications satellite along with a small experimental satellite for the United States Air Force.
As CNN noted, the first hard landing on the moon came in 1959, when Russia launched Luna 2, which crashed onto the moon; the U.S. followed with Ranger 4 in 1962. The first soft landing on the moon came in 1966; executed by both Russia and the United States; there was not another unmanned soft landing until China launched Chang'e 3 in 2013.
Israel would be the first country to completely fund such a project with private donations; the 5-foot tall spacecraft would be the smallest spacecraft to reach the moon, and the least expensive effort, at $100 million. Morris Kahn, who donated $40 million, stated, "This mission that we were talking about was really a mission impossible. The only thing is, I didn't realize it was impossible, and the three engineers that started this project didn't think it was impossible, and the way Israel thinks, nothing is impossible... We are really making this dream come true."
"Beresheet" will circumnavigate the earth repeatedly in order to pick up speed before it zooms toward the moon, where it is expected to land on April 11. On Wednesday, SpaceIL co-founder Yonatan Winetraub spoke of the inexpensive nature of the mission, saying, "This is Uber-style space exploration. The problem with that is, it doesn't allow us to choose the orbit completely. We have to consider the requirements from the other payloads …”
Winetraub pointed out that the moon and the earth had to be in sync before the rocket could launch, adding, "The moon is coming around, and we're doing our own orbit, and we need to synchronize everything. For that, we need to do something that's called 'phasing loops,' to make sure that the moon comes around in the right position so you can capture with it. And that takes time."
The team responsible for the Israeli spacecraft has been meeting children around the world to discuss the mission. SpaceIL co-founder Kfir Damari said, "It is rocket science, but our goal is to show them that it's not magic — it's something they can understand. If they can understand that, and if they can meet engineers and hear their story and see that they come from all different kinds of backgrounds, they can understand that they themselves can be those who will build the next spacecraft."
The New York Times stated that “Beresheet” is expected to land at a lava plain named Mare Serenitatis,, where it will measure the moon’s magnetic fields, offering an opportunity to study the moon’s iron core. The spacecraft also carries a disc provided by the Arch Mission Foundation that is a compendium of human knowledge along with a time capsule containing Israeli cultural symbols and a Bible.
Watch launch below: