The Israeli moon lander Beresheet on Thursday failed to be the first spacecraft built by the private sector to safely land on the moon. After entering orbit, the spacecraft lost its main engine and went into an uncontrolled descent before it crashed.
The Israeli spacecraft had to tackle one of the biggest challenges of its lunar journey – the landing maneuver, the last stage of which was controlled solely by the spacecraft’s computer.
The landing began as planned, with Beresheet managing to snap two photos, one of which was a "selfie" bearing a sign that reads "Am Yisrael Chai" (meaning "The nation of Israel lives").
After initiating landing protocol, the control room said it lost contact with one of the landing detectors when the spacecraft was less than ten kilometers from the surface.
"According to all the signs, we won't be the fourth country to land on the moon. We were very close on the moon. We're on the moon, just not how we wanted. We'll check it again and try to understand what happened," the control room said.
The landing event was attended by U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who addressed the project's key donor, Morris Kahn, after the crash and said, "If first you don't succeed, try try again. We've reached the moon, but we want to land more peacefully."
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Netanyahu said the attempt itself was a great achievement, and that if "we persist, we will be the fourth country to land on the moon."
"We didn't succeed, but we undoubtedly tried. The achievement of reaching where we did is tremendous," Kahn said, who told Netanyahu before the landing maneuver began that he's considering to initiate a national Israeli space program.
Kfir Damari, one of the project's founders, said after the crash: "Today Israel is on the moon. We hoped it'd be different, but it isn't." Ofer Doron, director of the space program within the Israel Aerospace Industries, added: "We've reached the moon, but not in one piece."
In the final hours before landing, the spacecraft’s flight engineers found a flat surface where Beresheet could safely land at a time when the moon’s surface was not scorching hot from exposure to the sun. Temperatures on the moon are as high as 130 to 150 degrees Celsius (265 to 300 F.) during the lunar day – the equivalent of two weeks on Earth.