April 13, 2019– Mary Greeley News – Israel’s first moon lander came up just short in its historic touchdown bid on April 11.
The robotic Beresheet spacecraft, built by SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), aimed to become the first Israeli craft, and the first privately funded mission, ever to land softly on the moon. But the little robot couldn’t quite make it, crashing into the gray dirt around 3:25 p.m. EDT (1925 GMT). Mission control lost communications with the spacecraft when it was about 489 feet (149 meters) above the moon’s surface.
“We had a failure in the spacecraft; we unfortunately have not managed to land successfully,” Opher Doron, the general manager of IAI, said during a live broadcast from mission control. “It’s a tremendous achievement up ’til now.”
“If at first you don’t succeed, you try again,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who watched Beresheet’s landing attempt from SpaceIL’s control center in Yehud, Israel.
So, the list of moon-landing nations remains at three, all of them superpowers — the Soviet Union, the United States and China.
But Beresheet accomplished plenty during its short life, as we shall see.
A long road to the moon
Beresheet’s story begins in 2011, when the nonprofit organization SpaceIL formed to compete in the Google Lunar X Prize. The GLXP offered $20 million to the first privately funded team to put a robot down softly on the moon, move it at least 1,650 feet (500 meters) on the lunar surface and have it sent high-resolution imagery home to Earth.
The runner-up would pocket $5 million. An additional $5 million was available for various special accomplishments, bringing the contest’s total purse to $30 million.
The competition ended last year without a winner, but SpaceIL and IAI, the country’s biggest aerospace and defense company, continued working on the 5-foot-tall (1.5 meters) Beresheet. (Some other former GLXP teams, such as Florida-based Moon Express, have kept going as well.)
Last month, the X Prize Foundation announced that SpaceIL could win a special $1 million Moonshot Award if Beresheet successfully landed on the lunar surface. Just minutes after the moon crash, X Prize founder and Executive Chairman Peter Diamandis and CEO Anousheh Ansari said SpaceIL and IAI will receive the award despite failing to land.
“I think they managed to touch the surface of the moon, and that’s what we were looking for for our Moonshot Award,” Ansari said.
“And also, besides touching the surface of the moon, they touched the lives and the hearts of an entire nation, an entire world, schoolkids around the world,” Diamandis said.