After a journey of 4.5 million km (2.8 million miles), Israel’s Beresheet spacecraft came within 150 meters of the lunar surface before malfunctioning and crashing.
As the engines throttled at maximum thrust to slow down the spacecraft from maximum speeds of up to 6000 km/h (3750 mi/h), suddenly, just seconds before the anticipated soft landing, the main engine failed momentarily, and boom, the high speeds brought her down too fast and into a crash landing.
Just moments before her engines failed, Beresheet managed to send back one final selfie from about 100 km (62 miles) from the lunar surface. Israel Aerospace Industries may need to look into the dangers of selfie pictures while flying to the moon!
Beresheet had been in orbit around the moon for over 1 million km before maneuvering itself into just the right position to land on the Sea of Serenity, a flat area on the lunar surface.
Morris Kahn, the major funder of the SpaceIL project, said in the control room after it was confirmed that the landing had failed, “You can’t win ‘em all.” But Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was also present, corrected Mr. Kahn with, “No, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Netanyahu went on to make a commitment to try again in another 2-3 years, which SpaceIL technicians estimate is how long it would take to send up another spacecraft. Perhaps after Beresheet, which means Genesis, Israel will call the next space exploration Exodus?
Beresheet left Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Feb. 21 and traveled for 6 weeks using the gravity of the earth and then the moon to make its way to the lunar surface. An estimated 100,000 viewers tuned in to a live YouTube broadcast from the control room. Hundreds of chat messages per minute indicated people were watching from Israel, the US and other countries.
“We don’t have to be disappointed. We should congratulate ourselves on what we have achieved,” Israel President Reuven Rivlin said. Later he added jokingly, “Sure we didn’t land exactly like we wanted, but we landed. We are on the moon!” One commenter on social media said that we should call the Israeli space program BASA, an Israeli slang meaning “oy veh,” rather than NASA.
Although it didn’t complete its mission, Israel become the seventh country to have a spacecraft orbit the moon and first to do it with a privately-financed program. Beresheet was the size of a compact car and weighed just 1,300 pounds (590 kg) at launch, most of which was fuel. The spacecraft’s landing time estimated at 10:30 pm Israel time was listed on Ben Gurion Airport’s arrival times board along with Thursday’s other flights.