Israeli Spacecraft Takes the Ultimate Selfie on Its Way to Making History on the Moon

A touchdown would make Israel only the fourth country to pull off a moon landing

A handout picture released by SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) on March 5, 2019, shows a picture taken by the camera of the Israel Beresheet spacecraft, of the Earth during a slow spin of the spacecraft from a distance of 37,600 km (23363.5 miles)
AFP PHOTO / HO / Israeli Aerospace Industries

Israeli spacecraft Genesis ("Beresheet" in Hebrew) has taken the ultimate selfie on its roundabout journey to the moon.

Organizers for the privately funded mission released the photo Tuesday, 1 ½ weeks after its launch. It shows the spacecraft orbiting some 23,300 miles (37,600 kilometers) away, with the entire Earth as the stunning Apollo-style backdrop. Australia easily stands out. A plaque reads: “Small Country, Big Dreams” and “The people of Israel live.”

The spacecraft is shooting for a moon landing April 11. It rocketed from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Feb. 21 and has been circling Earth in ever bigger loops.

The Genesis's landing site will be on the northern hemisphere of the moon in what's known as the Sea of Tranquility, the same general area as the Apollo 11 landing site. It's where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin famously took their first moon walk, planting an American flag and their footprints onto the surface of the moon. 

Alrdin wished the mission well on Twitter, writing, "All the best to @TeamSpaceIL as it starts its journey tonight on a @SpaceX #Falcon9 from Florida to my old stomping ground ...the moon #israeltothemoon."

Despite some early problems, Genesis should be close enough to enter lunar orbit in early April. A touchdown would make Israel the fourth country to pull off a moon landing.

Beresheet on its way to the moon

Around midnight between Monday and Tuesday, Genesis was scheduled to carry out another maneuver to increase the radius of its orbit around Earth. The maneuver was supposed to be carried out automatically while the spacecraft was in a region of the sky where it wouldn't have contact with its controllers on the ground.

But while the preparations for the maneuver were underway, the spacecraft’s computer performed an unplanned reboot on its own. The restart cancelled the maneuver, and it continued in its original orbit. The engineers responsible for Genesis' operations are analyzing the data and trying to understand what caused the reboot, and what its implications may be.

The Associated Press contributed to this story