Israeli Spacecraft Launching for the Moon This Week

President Rivlin at SpaceIL event with a model of the “Beresheet” spacecraft. Illustrative. Photo courtesy of Amos Ben-Gershom (Israeli GPO)

Israel is set to become just the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the moon, as the satellite “Beresheet”—Hebrew for “Beginning”—is scheduled to launch atop a SpaceX rocket around the end of this week with its destination being the lunar surface. The spacecraft will carry a time capsule to be left on the moon—which includes a digital Bible, Israeli national symbols and Israeli songs—as well as conduct an experiment to measure and map the moon’s magnetic field, per Israeli press releases. The lander is scheduled to touch down on the moon in April.

“The spacecraft project will enable every Israeli, but especially future generations, to understand that even the citizens of a small country may and should dream big,” Israeli Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis was quoted by one of the press releases as saying. “The fact that Israel will be the fourth country in the world, alongside the US, Russia and China, to land a spacecraft on the moon is cogent proof that we are an international science and technology power.”

Like the spacecraft, Akunis is traveling to the United States for the launch, which will be done at the US Air Force Base at Cape Canaveral, Florida during the night between Thursday and Friday this week.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in comments released by his office earlier this month, said of the moon launch: “The project puts Israel in one rank with the world’s major powers. The citizens of Israel and all of us can be proud. We are turning Israel into [a] rising global power with all that this entails.”

The spacecraft is 1.5 meters, or about five feet, tall and weighs roughly 500 kilograms—or approximately 1,100 pounds—which mostly consists of fuel to finish its journey from the SpaceX rocket to the moon. The project—which was done by SpaceIL and the Israeli Aerospace Industries with support of the Israel Space Agency—took eight years of work.

Morris Kahn, President of Space IL, was quoted by one of the press releases as telling Israeli President Reuven Rivlin that “it is a tremendous achievement and I am proud to be part of it, and that the Israeli flag will soon fly on the moon.”

Rivlin was quoted by that same press statement as saying of the project, “This is an historic moment. In a few days, the first Israeli spacecraft will be sent to the moon. ‘Bereishit’ will make history!

“…Until now, only great powers have landed on the moon—the United States, the Soviet Union and China. But if everything goes to plan, the State of Israel—our young and small country—will be the fourth country in history to land a spacecraft on the moon.”

The Israeli lunar-lander is appropriately named. The crew of the first spacecraft to be manned by humans, orbit the moon and return to earth, Apollo 8 in 1968, during the journey recited the opening verses of the Book of Genesis—which is called “Beresheet” in Hebrew. Over 50 years later, the people who speak the original language of the account of creation will themselves send a spacecraft from earth into the heavens to the moon’s orbit, and even beyond.

(By Joshua Spurlock,, February 18, 2019)

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