Israel's first spacecraft built to land on the moon was set for launch on Thursday from Florida on a mission that, if successful, would make the Jewish state only the fourth nation to achieve a controlled touchdown on the lunar surface. It will also bring a time capsule to the Moon, including the Israeli flag, the country's national anthem, "Hatikvah", dictionaries in 27 languages, the Bible, and a children's book about the mission. Eastern, deploying the Beresheet lunar lander 33 minutes later, and the Nusantara Satu telecom satellite with the S5 experimental smallsat almost 45 minutes after liftoff. Two minutes after it separates from the rocket, Beresheet will communicate for the first time with the mission's control center in Yehud, Israel.
At 8:45 p.m. Eastern Standard time on Thursday, Israel will launch its initial mission to the moon, which also represents the world's first privately funded lunar voyage.
Beresheet, whose name means "in the beginning" in Hebrew, is a joint project of IAI and the nonprofit organization SpaceIL. Within an hour after liftoff, Beresheet was already sending back data and had successfully deployed its landing legs, according to SpaceIL.
During a mission slated to last just two to three days on the moon, Beresheet will use on board instruments to photograph the landing site on the Sea of Tranquility, SpaceIL vice-president Yigal Harel said.
Watch the mission unfold live here.
The four-legged Beresheet, barely the size of a washing machine, will circle Earth in ever bigger loops until it's captured by lunar gravity and goes into orbit around the moon.
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"Beresheet" will circumnavigate the earth repeatedly in order to pick up speed before it zooms toward the moon, where it is expected to land on April 11.
Despite the financial troubles that prevented it from making the Xprize deadline, SpaceIL found more funding and is continuing the mission without the promise of a $20 million prize. That makes for a much longer trip.
"This is Uber-style space exploration, so we're riding shotgun on the rocket", Winetraub explained at a news conference on the eve of launch. The X Prize was an global contest founded to challenge private companies to build spacecraft capable of landing on the moon without government funds. The Soviet Union landed Luna 2 on the Earth's nearest neighbor in 1959. China made history in January with its Chang'e 4, the first to touch down on the dark side of the moon.
The 5-foot-tall Beresheet lander will be tucked into the rocket with Nusantara Satu.
The Israeli spacecraft was launched using Elon Musk's SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket together with United States and Indonesian satellites. Data will be relayed via the USA space agency NASA's Deep Space Network to SpaceIL's Israel-based ground station Yehud.