The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress
On 11 April, the unmanned Israeli moon lander Beresheet (Hebrew for “in the Beginning”, as written in biblical texts) made an unsuccessful descent onto the lunar surface. This was attributed to a chain of technical issues, such as faulty engines and communications lasting for 21 minutes.
The space probe, unlike many of its predecessors from other countries, is not fully funded by the Israeli government – instead, the US$100 million mission was almost completely paid for by private donors, and was constructed via a collaboration between Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Israeli non-profit aerospace company SpaceIL. The craft was launched from Cape Canaveral on a Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX.
According to SpaceIL, engineers reported that the first hardware issue occured 14km above the lunar surface. By 150m, communications were lost, with the craft last recording a speed of 500km/h, “making a collision inevitable”. The Beresheet’s main engines likewise failed due to a glitch, preventing a controlled descent.
If successful, the Beresheet would have been cheapest and smallest spacecraft to ever land on the Moon, making Israel the 4th country in the world to complete a “soft” moon landing, joining Russia, the US, and China. Nevertheless, Israel’s foreign ministry congratulated the team for helping Israel become one of the seven countries to have had a spacecraft orbited the Moon.
Twice In A Blue Moon?
Two days after the crash, hopes were still running high. SpaceIL reported that they would be planning a second mission, this time funded wholly by private investors and the Israeli public.
SpaceIL President Morris Kahn felt that the future craft, the Beresheet 2, should be a project by the Israeli people, and that they “will not rely on government support”.
As 2020 approaches, US Vice President Mike Pence announced in March plans to return people to the Moon by 2020. China intends to begin construction of a lunar base by 2025, with countries like Russia, Japan, and India planning missions in the next two decades. Surely, the dawn of a new space age is soon approaching.