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Israeli moon mission makes orbit ahead of Sea of Serenity landing

The SpaceIL Beresheet lander will attempt to touch down on the moon next week.

The little lander Beresheet hopes to make history in multiple ways this year.


Welcome to moon orbit, Israel. 

The privately financed SpaceIL Beresheet mission just aced its "most critical maneuver to date" when the spacecraft entered into orbit around the moon on Thursday, according to a SpaceIL press release. This delicate dance required activating the spacecraft's engine to reduce its speed. It's already traveled over 3.4 million miles (5.5 million kilometers) along its journey through space.

Beresheet is aiming to land in the moon's Sea of Serenity on April 11. If all goes as planned, SpaceIL will become the first private, nongovernment group to place a lander on the surface of the moon. 

SpaceIL marked the orbital occasion with the release of an uplifting video looking ahead to landing day and inviting the world to follow along as it attempts to make history.

Beresheet's trip to the moon, which kicked off with a ride on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Feb. 21, has at times been a nail-biter. The spacecraft overcame a technical hiccup in February when its computer unexpectedly reset itself.

Earlier this week, SpaceIL shared Beresheet's dramatic distant view of Earth.

SpaceIL is a nonprofit organization. It was one of the Google Lunar XPrize teams that were attempting to launch a lander to the moon. That XPrize expired without an ultimate winner, though the competition lives on minus Google. The XPrize Foundation announced last week it will award SpaceIL with $1 million if it successfully lands Beresheet on the moon.

The lander is designed to take photos of its surroundings and itself, and to measure the moon's magnetic field. Beresheet also bears a time capsule with a huge database of files. Safely entering into orbit around the moon is a big moment that will be eclipsed only by the actual landing.