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Israel makes history as Moon-bound spacecraft completes successful launch

A SpaceX rocket took off from Florida's Cape Canaveral on Thursday night carrying Israel's Beresheet spacecraft, which aims to make history twice: as the first private-sector landing on the Moon, and the first from the Jewish state.

The start of the flight went smoothly, with the first stage entry burn completed uneventfully less than three minutes after lift-off.

The craft has been placed in Earth orbit, from where it will use its own engine to undertake a seven-week trip to reach the Moon; the Moon landing is scheduled for seven weeks' time, on April 11.

The 585-kilogram (1,290-pound) Beresheet, which means "Genesis" in Hebrew, lifted off at 8:45 pm (0145 GMT Friday) atop a Falcon 9 rocket from the private US-based SpaceX company of entrepreneur Elon Musk.

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).

So far, only the US, Russia and China have landed spacecrafts on the moon. The Chinese craft made the first ever soft landing on the far side of the moon on January 3.

“Israel actually has quite a good footprint in orbit around earth, both for defense reasons and communication reasons,” relays Prof. Oded Aharonson of Israel’s preeminent Weizmann Institute, explaining the significance of the launch for the Jewish state, which has several satellites.AFP

The unmanned mission is part of renewed global interest in the Moon, sometimes called the "eighth continent" of the Earth, and comes 50 years after American astronauts first walked on the lunar surface.

"This is history in the making - and it's live! Israel is aiming for the #moon and you're all invited to watch," said a Twitter message from SpaceIL, the non-profit organization that designed the Israeli craft.

It was backed notably by businessman and philanthropist Morris Kahn, who financed the development of a craft. "Make us proud," he said Thursday.

Entrepreneurs, not government space agencies, financed the mission, which was initially projected at $10 million but eventually grew to $100 million.

Other partners are Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Israel's space agency, and the country's Ministry of Science and Technology.

So far, only Russia, the United States and China have made the 384,000-kilometer (239,000-mile) journey and landed spacecraft on the Moon.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine congratulated the Israeli team for carrying out the mission, saying, "this is a historic step for all nations and commercial space as we look to extend our collaborations beyond low-Earth orbit and on to the Moon."

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

For Israel, the landing itself is the main mission, but the spacecraft also carries a scientific instrument to measure the lunar magnetic field, which will help understanding of the Moon's formation.

Technically, it is far from a trivial mission.

After its initial boost from the Falcon 9, the Beresheet's British engine will have to make several ignitions to place the spacecraft on the correct trajectory to the Moon.

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

Comments

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Congratulation and Mazel Tov. I'm very proud.

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