The Israeli spacecraft “Beresheet” crashed into the moon Thursday night, just moments before touchdown, failing in an ambitious attempt to make history as the first privately-funded lunar landing.
The landing maneuver, which was carried out autonomously, began as planned, with Beresheet managing to take two photos, one of which was a “selfie” bearing a plaque that reads “Am Yisrael Chai” (meaning “The nation of Israel lives” in Hebrew).
Minutes before the craft was due to land, its main engine shut down and communication with the spacecraft was lost. Both briefly returned, but too late to arrest the craft’s velocity, which was too fast for a safe landing on the surface. Communication was then lost for good, with the working assumption for the present being that the craft was destroyed on impact.
The message from the control room was "All the signs are that we will not be the fourth country in the world that lands on the Moon, but we recorded a huge achievement. We reached the moon, but apparently not in the way we wanted."
SpaceIL Chairman Morris Kahn, who invested most of the $100 million project, said, “SpaceIL’s achievement is amazing, even though we did not succeed in the final landing. That’s what happens in space. And it seems that there is already a desire to produce another spacecraft with which we will succeed. I am grateful to all the workers and volunteers and do not regret for a moment that we tried. We have something to be proud of.”
“At first sight, it seems that a fault in the spacecraft’s acceleration gauges led to a chain of events that turned off the engine,” said Opher Doron, General Manager of IAI's Space Division. “There’s great pain alongside immense pride at a huge achievement by any standard. We almost succeeded to the end, and I hope that there will soon be an opportunity to try again, and we’ll study the problems and fix them. An immense achievement with a slightly bitter taste at the end.”
“If at first you don't succeed, you try again,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was present in the control room. “The very attempt is a massive achievement. If we persist, we will become the fourth country to land on the Moon.” He added that Israel would have a spacecraft land successfully on the moon within the next two to three years.
President Reuven Rivlin hosted a special viewing event for the moon landing with children at his official residence. “The disappointments are small compared with the mighty achievements,” he said. “I am proud to be here this evening with so many children who saw the achievement. This is an important night for the citizens of Israel and for Israeli children who have seen what we can do.”
Beresheet was launched from Cape Canaveral on a SpaceX launcher on February 22 and has traveled four million miles in its journey to the moon. It carried a small laser retroreflector from NASA intended to measure magnetic fields and provide insight on the moon’s iron core. It also had a time capsule that included a Bible, Israeli cultural symbols and a picture of famed Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died in the crash of the US space shuttle Columbia in 2003.
The head of NASA, Jim Bridenstine, said he regretted the mission didn’t succeed, but “I have no doubt that Israel and SpaceIL will continue to explore and I look forward to celebrating their future achievements.”