Published: Sat, February 23, 2019
Science | By Michele Flores

Israel's first lunar lander launched into space from Florida

Israel's first lunar lander launched into space from Florida

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 United States-based Arch Mission Foundation.

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.

"This is history in the making - and it's live!" The $100 million mission is headed by SpaceIL, a nonprofit organization based in Israel. Previously, only the U.S., U.S.S.R, and China have landed spacecraft on the moon.

The Israeli team said glare from the sun on the spacecraft's sensors was making it more hard than expected for the spacecraft to orient itself according to the position of the stars as it prepared for its first orbit around the Earth, the first stage of its slow seven-week journey to the moon.

"The problem with that is, it doesn't allow us to choose the orbit completely", says Yonathan Winetraub, one of the founders of SpaceIL.

The $100 million joint venture between SpaceIL and state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. was financed mostly by Jewish philanthropists including Morris Kahn, SpaceIL's president and a founder of Amdocs Ltd., and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

If the Israeli lander makes it to the moon, it will be the fourth nation to touch down on the natural satellite joining the US, Russia, and China.

The spacecraft will also plop the Israeli flag on the lunar surface and take some snaps before the mission ends two days later. Technically, it is far from a trivial mission.

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Just minutes after blasting off, the Falcon 9's nine-engine suborbital main-stage booster rocket could be seen in the sky just as the moon appeared over the horizon.

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

On Thursday night, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying the first-ever private moon mission.

After China earlier this year, and now Israel, India hopes to become the fifth lunar country in the spring with its Chandrayaan-2 mission. It aims to put a craft with a rover onto the Moon's surface to collect data.

Japan plans to send a small lunar lander, called SLIM, to study a volcanic area around 2020-2021. "The strength of Israel in the world is rising, rising, rising and rising to the moon", Netanyahu said.

During a mission slated to last just two to three days on the moon, Beresheet will use on board instruments to photograph the landing site on the Sea of Tranquility, SpaceIL vice-president Yigal Harel said.

A series of future moon landings has already been jointly planned by IAI and German's OHB System on behalf of the European Space Agency.

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