It's Blast Off for Israel's Mission to the Moon

'Uber-style' mission will share rocket with 2 other spacecraft
By Richard Kemeny,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 22, 2019 9:42 AM CST
It's Blast Off for Israel's Mission to the Moon
This photo shows a time exposure from the shore of the Banana River near Port Canaveral of the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019.   (Malcolm Denemark/Florida Today via AP)

Israel launched the first private spacecraft to the moon late Thursday, in a takeoff from Florida's Cape Canaveral on the back of one of Space X's Falcon 9 rockets. An unmanned craft weighing in at 1,300 pounds, Beresheet's name is Hebrew for "in the beginning," the first few words of the Bible, reports CNN. If successful, the mission—led by Israeli nonprofit group SpaceIL—would make Israel fourth in the list of countries that have performed a soft lunar landing, in which the spacecraft lands gracefully rather than crashing into the moon's surface, per the New York Times. The mission was funded entirely from private donations and cost $100 million, a snip compared to the billions that have gone into the US space program.

On arrival, Beresheet will probe the moon's magnetic field and take pictures of its rocky surface. It is also carrying a digital backup of humanity's knowledge and a time capsule. The plan is to travel around 4 million miles in total, careening around the Earth several times in widening orbits, to pick up speed before it slingshots to the moon. It should arrive in lunar orbit by early April, per Space. China's recent moon mission reached lunar orbit in only 4.5 days, but Beresheet is sharing its rocket ride with two other space-bound payloads. "This is Uber-style space exploration," explained SpaceIL co-founder Yonatan Winetraub at a press conference. (Read more space stories.)

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