The Little Spaceship That Couldn’t
While Israel is still the seventh country to achieve lunar orbit, it appears a moon landing will have to wait
On Thursday night Israel time, Israeli spacecraft Beresheet was supposed to touch down on the lunar lava plane known as the Sea of Serenity and shut down its engines, bringing an end to its 6.5 million kilometers journey among the stars and making Israel the fourth country to land on the moon.Throughout its journey, it provided a series of photos of both earth and the moon, even sending back a selfie with earth at its back, 37,600 kilometers away. It also launched a merchandise line with hoodies, baseball caps, T-shirts, and baby onesies.
Instead, an engine failure appears to have occurred, causing the spacecraft to crash during its descent. While Israel is still the seventh country to achieve lunar orbit, it appears a moon landing will have to wait.
Beresheet started as a private attempt by nonprofit SpaceIL to win Google’s 10-year space race competition Lunar X Prize, before garnering around $100 million in donations and progressing despite the competition’s deadline passing with no winner. Israeli state-owned defense contractor Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI). also took part in its development.
A Beresheet selfie. Photo: Nitsan Saddan
“We had a failure in the spacecraft,” Opher Doron, IAI’s space division general manager said Thursday night at the mission’s control room, which the landing was being aired live.
Following the crash, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that this will not be Israel’s final attempt to soft-land on the moon’s surface, a feat he promised will be achieved “in another three years.”
In February, Beresheet set out on its voyage on the back of a SpaceX rocket, orbiting the earth in growing circles before leaving its gravity for the moon’s. With it, it carried an Israeli flag, the drawings of Israeli children, the bible, and information from Wikipedia.
While many in both Israel and the world were disappointed, SpaceIL chairman and investor Morris Kahn said that “the achievement of getting to where we got is really tremendous. I think we can be proud.”