Israel’s Beresheet Spacecraft Approaches Moon but Fails to Land

Israeli spacecraft starts orbiting moon on maiden voyage
AFP

YEHUD – Israel did not succeed in its bid to become the fourth country to land on the moon when its Beresheet spacecraft on Thursday made it just shy of the lunar surface but crashed right before touchdown.

The country watched live on television as SpaceIL lost contact with Beresheet several times. The connection was briefly reestablished but was lost just as the spacecraft was making its final approach to the moon. Engineers said that Beresheet then crashed.

Still, the entire mission, which brought the spacecraft almost to the lunar surface, was a big achievement for the Jewish state.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try again,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed. “A[n Israeli] spacecraft will land on the moon — whole,” he added, pledging to accomplish the goal on two to three years.

Fighting back tears, Ehud Hayun, a space systems engineer at Israel Aerospace Industries, told Breitbart Jerusalem the mission “was a brave attempt, sadly it didn’t happen this time.”

“I believe this is just the beginning,” Hayun added. “We’ll conquer space.”

Concluding a 47-day journey, Beresheet began its landing sequence at 10:05 p.m. local time and was slated to land twenty minutes later.

According to Kfir Damari, the co-founder of SpaceIL which is behind the venture, Beresheet’s mission is the result of “Israeli hutzpah” – the Hebrew for audacity.

Damari, along with his fellow co-founders Yariv Bash and Yonatan Weintraub, had decided on a whim and over a beer at a bar to enter the Google Lunar X competition to land a spacecraft on the moon. While other competitors had a two year head start, Damari and the other entrepreneurs were forced to build theirs in a month – something that required out-of-the-box thinking and, of course, a healthy dose of hutzpah.

“We basically did whatever we liked,” Damari told Breitbart News.

Time and funding constraints meant the team always tried to “think different,” Damari said.

One of the primary reasons that Beresheet was a trailblazing spacecraft is that it doesn’t actually leave a blazing trail behind it. That is because it doesn’t burn fuel constantly, it only expends rocket engine propulsion when it expands its elliptical orbit. According to Damari, the team did not have enough time to go the conventional route of building a rover, making it unique among other contenders.

The Beresheet team also decided to shoot for the moon on the first mission instead of first executing a recon mission as is usually the case.

Weighing only 1300 pounds and roughly the size of a car, the lander is much smaller than other spacecraft and is operated by a single computer. Beresheet cost some $100 million to build but that is pennies when it comes to space exploration, Damari explained, with other moon landers costing at least ten times that amount.

Most of the sum was put forward by private philanthropists, chief among them South African billionaire Morris Kahn.

“I’m very excited, not just for Israel but for the Jewish people as a whole,” Kahn told Breitbart Jerusalem before the spacecraft crashed.

Kahn said three elements motivated him to fund the project. The first was to bring Israel into the space age. The second was to encourage young people to become involved in the sciences. The third element was to make Israelis proud. “This is an incredible accomplishment for all of us. It’s a uniquely Israeli project.”

The lander attempted to touch down near Mare Serenitatis, or the Sea of Serenity, which is on the near side of the moon.

Beresheet needed to decelerate from 8,500 kilometers per hour (5,280 miles per hour) to 7,500 kilometers per hour (4,660 miles per hour) in order to successfully enter lunar orbit.

Hayun, the IAI systems engineer, said he thought the attention that Beresheet’s journey has received all over the world was completely out of prorportion.

“We never imagined anything like this. The interest by the international media has been unprecedented – it’s on the level of a mission to mars.”

Hayun points out that of the three other nations that have landed on the moon, two of them – the U.S. and Russia – were neck and neck in a space race during the Cold War. “The only other nation to land on the moon in the modern age is China. We will be second to China, it’s amazing,” Hayun said prior to the crash.

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