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Israeli Moon Lander Launches From Cape Canaveral

SpaceIL's "Beresheet" lander ahead of its mission to the moon. Photo: SpaceIL
SpaceIL's "Beresheet" lander ahead of its mission to the moon. Photo: SpaceIL

An Israeli spacecraft is on its way to the moon after launching Thursday night from Cape Canaveral. It’s the first privately funded mission to attempt a touch down on the lunar surface.

The golf-cart sized lander was designed by the non-profit group Space IL with about $100 million dollar of mostly private donations.

It’s called Bereshee, which means “in the beginning” in Hebrew. It hitched a ride to space on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying an Indonesian communications satellite.

UCF planetary scientist Phil Metzger said the mission is laying the groundwork for future small landers.  “It’s exciting because the technological progress means we’ll have a lot more missions going into space, going to the moon, getting data.”

The spacecraft will spend the next two months making its orbit around the Earth bigger and bigger before getting captured by the moon’s gravity. Once it touches down on the moon, Beresheet will beam back pictures from the landing site for about two days until it shuts down.

If successful, Israel will join only three countries to successfully land on the moon – the US, Russia, and China.

Metzger said the launch signals the start of a new space race. “Everybody is interested to see what happens in that competition – which companies survive, which companies develop revenue streams and stay in business for the long term.”

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration.