Israel's Beresheet would have been the most unlikely lunar lander in history, but the spacecraft didn't survive its reach for the moon's surface Thursday.
followed the tense maneuvers needed to get the lunar lander down to the Sea of Serenity on the near side of the moon. The Beresheet team members worked in the control room as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu watched from a spectator area.
The landing process suffered some glitches when the main engine cut out and mission control lost communication. The disappointed team reacted calmly to the failure.
The failed mission will be remembered as bittersweet.
"Well, we didn't make it, but we definitely tried, and the achievement of getting where we got is really tremendous," said Morris Khan, an Israeli entrepreneur who provided a large portion of the funding for Beresheet, as he addressed the observers near the control room. "We can be proud."
NASA commended the mission in a tweet: "We congratulate SpaceIL, Israel Aerospace Industries and the state of Israel on the accomplishment of sending the first privately funded mission into lunar orbit." Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 pilot, also had kind words. "Never lose hope. Your hard work, teamwork, and innovation is inspiring to all," he tweeted.
This was a mission of firsts. Beresheet was to be Israel's first moon lander, which would have put the country in an exclusive club that includes the US, Soviet Union and China. In addition, nonprofit SpaceIL would have been the first private, nongovernment group to set a lander on the moon's surface.
SpaceIL was originally conceived to compete in Google's Lunar X Prize which, in 2007, threw down a challenge to private companies to build a spacecraft that could land on the moon. The original deadline to claim the $30 million in prize money was originally 2014, but it was extended out until 2018 before an announcement that the prize would go unclaimed.
Although SpaceIL didn't quite make the deadline, the X Prize foundation was inspired by its attempt, creating a new prize dubbed the Moonshot Award. Originally, the foundation stated "for their achievement upon landing on the moon", X Prize would hand SpaceIL the first Moonshot Award -- and $1 million.
Of course, Beresheet did not make it to the surface in one piece but it did still land -- albeit with a little more force than hoped. As a result, the foundation said it would still be providing SpaceIL with the cash.
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and along the way. The lander was designed to take pictures of its surroundings and measure the moon's magnetic field. It was as it approached the lunar surface and beam it back to Earth.on a
SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) hadfilled with digital files covering Israel's history and heritage. That time capsule was likely lost along with the spacecraft.
The dream didn't quite come to fruition, but Beresheet's journey to lunar orbit was still an important moment in space history that made the moon feel more in reach for the world.
Originally published April 11, 12:32 p.m. PT.
Update, 6:40 p.m. PT: Adds traditional information regarding X Prize and Beresheet's final image.