Israel's lunar lander Beresheet almost made to the moon's surface in one piece. But, despite a malfunction in the final moments that resulted in a crash landing, SpaceIL and all those involved in the project undoubtedly made history.
More importantly, they succeeded in inspiring a generation, and proving to the world that space exploration can be done much more inexpensively than in the past, opening the door for the private sector and academia to take the lead.
And, while everyone was hoping and praying for the landing to go as planned, the heads of NASA reminded Israelis that even the world's greatest superpowers didn't succeed on their first attempts. That Israel got so close really says something given that Beresheet was a privately-funded and managed endeavor operating on a shoestring budget of just $100 million.
NASA Associate Administrator Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen tweeted:
"Space is hard, but worth the risks. If we succeeded every time, there would be no reward. It’s when we keep trying that we inspire others and achieve greatness. Thank you for inspiring us @TeamSpaceIL. We’re looking forward to future opportunities to explore the Moon together."
Zurbuchen later wrote in response to others on Twitter that he would be willing to visit Israel later this year to discuss future cooperation to explore space. He added, "Explorers around the [world]￼ know that this is not the end of this story, only the end of one amazing chapter of [Israeli]￼ history!"
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine also congratulated this enterprising group of Israeli scientists and entrepreneurs who wanted to do something cool, and so went out and did it.
"While @NASA regrets the end of the @TeamSpaceIL mission without a successful lunar landing, we congratulate SpaceIL, Israel Aerospace Industries and the state of Israel on the accomplishment of sending the first privately funded mission into lunar orbit," Bridenstine wrote on Twitter.
Former astronaut and the second man to walk on the moon Buzz Aldrin also took to Twitter to indicate that he, too, had been watching the Beresheet landing attempt with great anticipation:
"Condolences to the Beresheet lander @TeamSpaceIL for what almost was! Communications were lost with the spacecraft just 150 meters (!!!) above the surface, and it couldn't quite stick the landing. Never lose hope - your hard work, teamwork, and innovation is inspiring to all!"
The Beresheet project started as an Israeli entry into the Google LunarX challenge, in which nongovernmental groups were supposed to land a craft on the moon by the end of 2018 to win a $1 million prize. The contest ended without any groups managing to reach the moon in time, but SpaceIL decided to continue the Beresheet project privately. They had come too far, and weren't going to give up on reaching the moon.
On Thursday, Google decided that despite not meeting the original deadline, and crashing rather than successfully landing, SpaceIL was still deserving of the prize.
Yonatan Winetraub, one of the three Israelis who founded SpaceIL eight years ago to participate in the Google challenge, indicated at a press conference following Thursday's event that the real goal had been to encourage children and students in the Jewish state and around the world to start dreaming bigger.
"I want to turn to kids that might be watching us. We didn’t reach the moon in one piece. That sucks. However, engineering and science are hard. Sometimes it doesn’t work the first time, sometimes it doesn’t work the second or third time. But it will work," stressed Winetraub. "I want to encourage you to continue studying these things so you can one day reach the moon, and the stars."
PHOTO: Israeli school children were invited to watch the attempted lunar landing at the President's Residence in Jerusalem. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)