CAP CAN CANVERAL, Florida – An Israeli spacecraft exploded to the moon for the nation's first lunar landing attempt, following a launch on Thursday night by SpaceX.
A telecommunication satellite for Indonesia was the main cargo aboard the Falcon 9 rocket, which lit up the sky as it fled. But the lunar lander financed by Israel's private funds – a first not only for Israel, but also for commercial space – generated buzz.
Israel seeks to become only the fourth country to land on the moon, after Russia, the United States and China. The satellite – called Beresheet, Hebrew for Genesis or "In the Beginning" – will take nearly two months to reach the moon.
"We thought it was time to change, and we want little Israel to reach the moon," said Yonatan Winetraub, co-founder of Israel SpaceIL, a non-profit organization behind the project.
The moon, almost full and shining brightly, signaled that she was rising in the eastern sky. An hour after takeoff, Beresheet was already returning data and deploying its landing legs, according to SpaceIL.
"We will continue to analyze the data, but in the end we have entered the very exclusive group of countries that have launched a spacecraft on the Moon," said Yigal Harel, SpaceIL spacecraft program manager. He said he was delighted to attend the launch in person and know that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was watching him live from the Yehud Control Center in Israel.
The four-legged Beresheet, which is barely the size of a washing machine, will surround the Earth with ever larger loops, until captured by lunar gravity and orbits the moon. . The landing would be on April 11 at the sea of serenity.
NASA's Apollo missions in the 1960s and 1970s took about three days to bring the astronauts to the moon, but they used Saturn V rocket monsters. The $ 100 million Beresheet mission did not could not afford its own rocket – even a small – and the organizers have therefore opted for a carpool share. It's a much longer trip; the moon is at this moment nearly 230,000 miles.
"It's an Uber-style space exploration, so we're on the rocket," said Winetraub at a press conference on the eve of the launch.
The US Air Force also has a small search spacecraft aboard the rocket, for a one-year mission orbiting the Earth.
The Soviet Union was the first to launch a spacecraft on the moon, Luna 2, in 1959. NASA followed with the Ranger 4 spacecraft in 1962. Last month, China became the first country to land on the other side of the moon.
The Apollo 11 Moonwalker, Buzz Aldrin, quickly presented his congratulations following the launch of Thursday. NASA's director, Jim Bridenstine, has termed it "not historic for all nations and all commercial spaces, as we seek to expand our collaborations beyond the Earth's orbit." low and on the Moon ". NASA has a laser reflector on board Beresheet and offers its Deep Space Network for communication.
"My best wishes to @TeamSpaceIL as he begins his trek tonight on a @SpaceX # Falcon9 from Florida to my old place of fall … the moon," tweeted Aldrin.
The Beresheet mission was originally part of the Google Lunar XPrize contest and was even retained before the end of the contest last year without a winner. The organizers decided to go ahead alone, with donations from billionaires and schoolchildren.
Lunar surface operations are expected to last only two days. Beresheet will measure the magnetic field at the landing site and will return data and images. A time capsule is on board the LG – which includes a photo of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died on the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003 – as well as a lunar library containing 30 million pages on a CD-ROM disc. the American Arch Mission Foundation.
Ramon's widow, Rona, was a big supporter of Beresheet; she died of cancer in December.
After take-off, SpaceX recovered the first rappel stage, which had flown twice last year. The recall landed smoothly on an offshore offshore platform after the hottest return so far, according to SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk. Sparks of burning metal were visible in the landing video.
Musk said the recall will fly a fourth time in April, when an abandonment test launches the new capsule of the Dragon Crew. Nobody will be on board.