Inside The SpaceX Moon Launch That Just Made History

SpaceIL team. Courtesy

SpaceIL team. Courtesy

"It's the first time a small country has aimed to reach the moon and land safely".

The spacecraft, called "Beresheet", a reference to the first words of the Bible in Hebrew: "In the beginning.", was launched into space at 8:45 p.m. local time.

Take-off was followed live back in Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu watching alongside engineers from the control center of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). After SpaceX launches the craft into orbit, it will travel to the moon over the course of the next two months or so.

"This mission that we were talking about was really a mission impossible", said entrepreneur Morris Kahn, who donated $40 million to the project. The $100 million Beresheet mission couldn't afford its own rocket - even a little one - so the organizers opted for a ride share. Previously, only the USA, U.S.S.R, and China have landed spacecraft on the moon.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Israel's first spacecraft created to land on the moon lifts off on the first privately-funded lunar mission at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., February 21, 2019.

Americans are the only ones to have walked on the lunar surface, but have not been there since 1972.

At the end of its brief mission, mission controllers plan to simply shut down the spacecraft, according to SpaceIL officials, leaving Beresheet as the latest piece of human hardware to litter the lunar landscape. If the mission gets scrubbed because of wind, rain, or technical issues, SpaceX will have another chance tomorrow to try again.

When it arrives, its landing gear must cushion the descent onto the lunar surface to prevent Beresheet from crashing.

The unmanned robotic explorer "Beresheet" being loaded into a shipping container in Israel on January 17, 2019.

SpaceX said it planned to land the first stage on a droneship, which will land in the Atlantic Ocean, following separation.

The initial project was conceived in the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition to successfully land an unmanned probe on the Moon, which was eventually discontinued before a victor was declared since no competitors were able to complete their projects by the March 31, 2018, deadline. As we better understand Israel's capabilities and the innovative work of their private industry, we know they'll be an even stronger global partner in the future, one vital to the success of extending commercial space to the Moon and eventually on to Mars and beyond.

After China earlier this year, and now Israel, India hopes to become the fifth lunar country in the spring with its Chandrayaan-2 mission.

Upon landing, Beresheet should transmit data from the moon for about two days.

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