Yehud, We Have Liftoff: Israeli Module on the Way to the Moon

Workers sitting in the control room before launching of the the Israeli spacecraft of the SpaceIL team, at the Israel Aerospace Industries in Yehud, early on Friday. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

After nearly a decade of work, the Israeli lunar module, Beresheet, was successfully launched early Friday Eastern time from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The module now begins its long journey to the moon where, if everything goes well, it will land on April 11th.

Israeli scientists are tracking the progress of Beresheet from Mission Control, located at Israel Aerospace Industries headquarters in the Tel Aviv suburb of Yehud. Liftoff was on time, at 3:45 a.m., and about 40 minutes later Beresheet separated from the SpaceX rocket that launched it into space and began communicating with scientists – to the shouts of joy and satisfaction of scientists and those witnessing the historic moment.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off with Israel’s Lunar Lander and an Indonesian communications satellite at space launch complex 40, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

Minutes before the launch, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told scientists that the launch “is a great step forward for Israel, but an even greater step forward for Israeli technology. Israel is now a world power, with the capability of reaching the moon. This is very emotional and it shows what we can do with the great talent we have. All Israelis stand behind you, with great faith in your work and great enthusiasm for your efforts. I requested that a Tanach, an Israeli flag, and a placard that says ‘Am Yisrael Chai‘ be included in the module, to be placed on the moon. This is something that we could only dream about – a small country, but with great accomplishments.”

Now that it is out of the atmosphere, the module – in order to minimize fuel usage – is in an orbit around earth that will eventually grow larger with each revolution, until it leaves the gravitational pull of earth and enters the gravitational field of the moon, eventually landing on the surface. Scientists told Yediot Acharonot that India will be launching its own moon-bound craft on March 25th, more than a month after the Israeli launch – but there was a possibility India’s craft would get to the moon before Israel’s. It’s not clear what technology India is using to propel its craft.

If Beresheet successfully lands on the moon and beats out India, it will make Israel just the fourth country to land on the moon (the U.S., Russia and China have already been there). The Israeli moonshot will be unmanned, and will be equipped with equipment for various scientific experiments, as well as cameras that will beam video back to earth from the moon’s surface. The moonshot is the outgrowth of a contest that Google had sponsored, which was to award a $30 million prize to the first private group to land an unmanned small spaceship on the moon. SpaceIL was one of the last finalists in the contest, which ended last March 31st without a winner.

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