Monday, February 25, 2019


Israel enters 'exclusive' club of countries to aim for the moon

By Ilan Gattegno, Niv Lilien, News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff

Israel Hayom
February 22, 2019

An Israeli spacecraft rocketed toward the moon overnight Thursday for the country's first attempted lunar landing, following a launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida by SpaceX.

A communications satellite for Indonesia was the main cargo aboard the Falcon 9 rocket, which illuminated the sky as it took flight. But Israel's privately funded lunar lander – a first not just for Israel but commercial space – generated the buzz.

Israel seeks to become only the fourth country to successfully land on the moon, after Russia, the U.S. and China. The spacecraft – called Beresheet, Hebrew for Genesis or "In the Beginning" – will take nearly two months to reach the moon.

"We thought it's about time for a change, and we want to get little Israel all the way to the moon," said Yonatan Winetraub, co-founder of Israel's SpaceIL, a nonprofit organization behind the effort.

The moon, nearly full and glowing brightly, beckoned as it rose in the eastern sky. Within an hour after liftoff, Beresheet was already sending back data and had successfully deployed its landing legs, according to SpaceIL.

"We'll keep analyzing the data, but bottom line is we entered the very exclusive group of countries that have launched a spacecraft to the moon," said Yigal Harel, head of SpaceIL's spacecraft program. He said it was thrilling to witness the launch in person and to know Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was watching it live from the control center in Yehud, Israel.

"Four countries have launched a spacecraft to the moon. One of them is 800 times bigger than us, one is 500 times bigger and another is a little less than that. We are a small country, but gigantic in our achievements and our ability to innovate. I hope they are already planning a spacecraft to Mars," Netanyahu said.

The four-legged Beresheet, barely the size of a washing machine, will circle Earth in ever larger loops until it's captured by lunar gravity and goes into orbit around the moon. Touchdown would be April 11 at the Sea of Serenity.

The Beresheet mission originally was part of the Google Lunar XPrize competition and even made the final cut before the contest ended last year without a winner. The organizers decided to press ahead on their own, and the project was financed largely by Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson together with SpaceIL president and billionaire high-tech developer Morris Kahn, as well as other donors from around the world.

"I have faith we will succeed [in landing on the moon]," Kahn told Israel Hayom. "We will meet to celebrate on April 11."

NASA's Apollo missions in the 1960s and 1970s took about three days to get astronauts to the moon, but they used monstrous Saturn V rockets. The $100 million Beresheet mission couldn't afford its own rocket – even a little one – so the organizers opted for a ride share. That makes for a much longer trip; the moon right now is nearly 230,000 miles (370,000 kilometers) away.

"This is Uber-style space exploration, so we're riding shotgun on the rocket," Winetraub explained at a news conference on the eve of launch.

Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis said: "We are witness to one of the historical benchmarks of the State of Israel. [It is] an occasion of pride and industriousness, thought and trailblazing Israeli innovation. We are a technological power and a hotbed for minds that think outside the box. It was proven today that great dreams lead to even greater reality."

The U.S. Air Force also has a small research spacecraft aboard the rocket, for a one-year mission in orbit around Earth.

The Soviet Union was the first to put 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 far side of the moon

Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin quickly offered congratulations following Thursday's launch. So did NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who called it "a historic step for all nations and commercial space as we look to extend our collaborations beyond low-Earth orbit and on to the moon." NASA has a laser reflector aboard Beresheet and is offering its Deep Space Network for communication.

"All the best to @TeamSpaceIL as it starts its journey tonight on a @SpaceX #Falcon9 from Florida to my old stomping ground ...the moon," Aldrin tweeted.

Lunar surface operations are meant to last just two days. Beresheet will measure the magnetic field at the landing site, and send back data and pictures. A time capsule is aboard the lander – which includes a picture of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died aboard space shuttle Columbia in 2003 – as well as a lunar library containing 30 million pages on a disk from the U.S.-based Arch Mission Foundation.

Ramon's widow, Rona, was a big supporter of Beresheet; she died of cancer in December.

Following liftoff, SpaceX recovered the first-stage booster, which flew twice last year. The booster landed smoothly on an offshore ocean platform, after the hottest re-entry yet, according to SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk. Sparks from burning metal were visible in the landing video.

Musk said the booster will fly a fourth time in April, during a launch abort test of the new crew Dragon capsule. No one will be aboard.

1 comment:

bob walsh said...

Good PR is good PR. It would have been more impressive if they had launched it themselves, but you go for what you can reach, and then reach further later.