“There is great inspiration and daring here, and as of now great success as well. We look at the clock, another 60 days or so. We will meet on April 11,” Netanyahu enthused.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Thursday night carrying Israel’s first lunar lander – “Beresheet” (“In the Beginning”) – on a mission that if successful will make the Jewish State only the fourth country to ever achieve a controlled touchdown on the moon’s surface.
Liftoff happened on schedule at 8:45 p.m Florida time, 3:45 a.m. Israel time Friday morning. Those in attendance at Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) headquarters in Yehud, Israel, cheered raucously. Some 500 employees and their families gathered to watch the launch of Israel’s historic lunar mission.
“This launch for us, the people who worked on the development and building of the spacecraft, is like a birth after a long pregnancy,” said Ehud Hayan, a space systems engineer at IAI “When the spacecraft leaves the rocket, that’s it. Once it’s in space, we can’t do any more tests or adjustments. It’s the first time it will be working alone, starting its functions. And once everything starts working, the motors are going and the pictures are streaming, you’ll feel as if there’s something alive.”
Only China, Russia, and the United States have landed a spacecraft on the moon. It will be the first such space capsule to land on the moon on a private initiative rather than on a government-funded enterprise.The 160-kilogram (350 pounds without fuel) four-legged spacecraft, about the size of a car, will also be the smallest and cheapest spacecraft to land on the moon.
A Succcessful Launch
According to official data, the Beresheet prepared to separate from the Falcon 9 rocket at 4:23 a.m, Israel time, and two minutes later, it separated from the rocket that launched it into space, successfully deploying its landing legs in the first test of its ability to function under its own power.
The spacecraft is now to travel about for seven weeks before reaching the moon on April 11.
“We had a successful launch, we were injected into a good orbit, separated well, and have good communications,” said Dr. Ofer Doron, the general manager of the IAI Space Division, after Beresheet separated from Falcon 9.
There is a small problem with one of the star trackers, which helps the spacecraft orient itself using the position of the stars, but Doron said there are other ways that the spacecraft will be able to maneuver onto the correct path.
The project is the brainchild of engineers who established an Israeli nonprofit called SpaceIL.It has proceeded with the cooperation of IAI, and has been funded mainly by Morris Kahn, a philanthropist and businessman who took the lead in completing the mission, serving as SpaceIL’s president and financing $40 million, according to the nonprofit group. Other major donors include Miriam and Sheldon Adelson and Sylvan Adams.
‘A Big Step for Israeli Technology’
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who watched the launch from the IAI command center, called it “a big step for Israel, and a big step for Israeli technology,” an apparent reference to the words of U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong, who said on July 20,1969, upon becoming the first person to step foot on the moon: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
“What I see here at Israel Aerospace Industries, together with Space.il, and the entrepreneurs and leaders of the project, together with you Morris, is extraordinary spirit and enthusiasm,” Netanyahu said.
“What there is here is far beyond the money and – I think – even more than the technology. There is great inspiration and daring here, and as of now great success as well. We look at the clock, another 60 days or so. We will meet on April 11 and I hope that we will be able to celebrate the safe landing of ‘Beresheet’.
Am Yisrael chai! (The Nation of Israel lives forever!)