Tel Aviv, Israel – Israel is aiming to become the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the moon with the scheduled launch Thursday from Cape Canaveral, Fla., of Beresheet, the first homegrown Israeli spaceship.
At stake are not only $100 million of investment and eight years of hard work, says the team of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs involved in the venture, but also possibly the future of independent privatized space travel.
Beresheet, the Hebrew word for Genesis, is the smallest and cheapest-made space shuttle ever to attempt the journey from Earth to the moon, say those behind the project. Measuring only about 5 feet in height and 6½ feet in diameter, the vessel is aiming to make a lunar landing on April 11.
Previous moon landings — the former Soviet Union in 1966, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in 1969 and China in 2013 — were all government-sponsored endeavors. This initiative, spearheaded by Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL, is being funded mainly by Jewish donors and foundations from around the world.
SpaceIL’s chief executive, Ido Anteby, said as long as there are no last-minute hiccups on Thursday night — the launch has already been postponed at least once — Beresheet will leave the Earth’s atmosphere by hitching a ride on a Falcon 9 commercial rocket belonging to Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Once the spaceship disengages from the Falcon 9 rocket, the craft will travel a roundabout route to the moon, covering a total distance of 6.5 million kilometers, orbiting both the Earth and the moon several times. As it reaches the moon’s orbit, Beresheet will reduce its speed hoping to be picked up by the moon’s gravity.
There are still challenges before it reaches a lunar landing and puts Israel on the space industry’s map. Israelis have already seen their share of disappointment and tragedy when it comes to space travel. Israel’s only astronaut, Ilan Ramon, was among the seven-member crew of the space shuttle Columbia when it disintegrated upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere in 2003.
Morris Kahn, SpaceIL’s president and its largest investor, said Monday he hoped the initiative, as the first commercial, nongovernment flight to the moon, would contribute significantly to future space exploration.
If all goes according to plan, future visitors to the moon will also have a reminder of Israel’s inaugural space flight because the craft, which is making a one-way journey, is carrying capsules filled with Israeli national symbols, Jewish cultural items, as well as digital files detailing how this project came about. It is also carrying a tiny nanotech version of the Bible.