First privately funded spacecraft ‘is about to land on the moon’

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Beresheet was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on February 21. But should everything go according to plan, the spacecraft will begin to reduce its altitude and when it reaches an altitude of 5 km, it will begin measuring the moon's precise surface in preparation for its landing.

Joining in the festivities, the Israeli Airports Authority listed the expected moon landing on its arrivals timetable.

The landing has been a long time coming, with SpaceIL originally being a participant in the Google Lunar XPrize competition which ended unceremoniously after none of the competitors could deliver a landing-capable spacecraft within the extended deadline date.

"We had a failure in the spacecraft, we unfortunately have not managed to land successfully", Opher Doron, the general manager of IAI said during a live broadcast from mission control. But the little robot couldn't quite make it, crashing into the gray dirt around 3:25 p.m. EDT (1925 GMT).

So far, only Russian Federation, the United States and China have made the 384,000-kilometre (239,000-mile) journey and landed on the Moon. It will operate there for only two to three days before the sunlight grows too intense and overheats the tiny spacecraft, but that will be enough to cement its place in history.

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NASA and its Deep Space Network are aiding the mission in tracking and communications. But Beresheet was not a science mission at heart. "However, its latest message said: "#Beresheet's main engine fail!

The U.S. Apollo program tallied six manned missions to the moon - the only ones yet achieved - between 1969 and 1972, and the United States and Soviets conducted a total of about a dozen more robotic landings between them. The $30 million competition was scrapped with no victor previous year after the organizers said none of the five finalists would make the March 31, 2018 deadline for a Moon launch, reports. On the top side of the lander, solar panels, cameras, and scientific experiments are mounted on the deck, and a plaque with the Israeli flag is also on the top deck.

"Well, we didn't make it but we definitely tried", Morris Kahn, an entrepreneur who helped found the Beresheet mission, said shortly after the spacecraft's failed landing attempt. "I didn't realize it was impossible and the three engineers who started this project didn't realize it was impossible, and the way we in Israel think, nothing is impossible".

Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated byKarl Tate), is out now.

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