Israel Aerospace Industries were excited to make history with their latest project, The Beresheet Spacecraft, set to take off to the Moon in early April. More than 2,500 Israeli men, women and children crowded around the command center, located in Yehud, Israel; all were anticipating the event from their comfortable plastic chairs. Among them was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was just as excited for the launch.
Beresheet, which is Hebrew for “in the beginning,” costed about $100 million for the entire mission. Although it seems like an exorbitant amount of money for a small project, it was significantly cheaper than other government-funded projects. According to The New York Times, “[The mission was] far less than government-sponsored lunar spacecraft, but it highlighted the trade-off in such faster and cheaper projects. The missions are also inherently riskier, and their backers must be willing to accept periodic failures.”
The project was funded by nonprofit organization SpaceIL, which was originally founded by three Israeli engineers: Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub, reported The Times. The goal for the formation of their nonprofit was to win the first-place $20 million grand prize in the Google Lunar X contest. They also wanted to serve as inspirations for Israeli children, “To pursue careers in science and engineering.”
Alas the task of starting their company proved to be more difficult, both technically and financially, than they imagined, and they had run out of time to meet the X Prize deadlines, even after multiple extensions. Miraculously, however, the Foundation decided to grant SpaceIL $1 million Moonshot Award, as a reward for landing successfully. Even after the mission failed to do this, the Foundation granted them the $1 million anyways. Peter Diamandis, executive chairman, who was also present at the ceremony, announced in a tweet, “XPRIZE to award $1 Million Moonshot Award to SpaceIL team for them to continue their work and pursue Beresheet 2.0.”
As the spacecraft lifted itself off the ground, managing to score a picture at 13 miles high, with the Moon in the background, the main engine started failing. Opher Doron, the general manager of Israel Aerospace Industries’ space division, kept the public informed while the crew tried to resolve the issue. For a few seconds it seemed as if he had fixed it. “We are resetting the spacecraft to try to enable the engine,” he announced. The method proved to be successful, and the engine turned back on. As the public sighed a breath of relief, SpaceIL Chief Executive Ido Anteby, interjected that he was wrong, “But it’s not. No, no.”
“The main engine is back on, but we have lost communication with the spacecraft.” That was the last bit of information Doron gave before the communication line was severed.
Beresheet was expected to land at 10:25pm in Israel, but when that time came and passed with no signs of the ship, it was official. The mission was over.
Although everyone was disappointed, they all managed to keep an optimistic perspective. Netanyahu wisely said, “If at first you don’t succeed, you try again.” One of the SpaceIL engineers, Daniela Geron, confided that, “Right now I feel kind of overwhelmed,” she said. “I feel pride. But also sad. And disappointed.” Despite the mission’s setbacks, the crew managed to achieve some smaller feats. Asaf Ezrai, aged 19, had watched from amongst the earnest crowd. Although he was also disappointed in how the launch fell apart, “…It’s a great achievement even to come to this conclusion in the end.”