On 11 April 2019 Israel’s first lunar lander, the Beresheet spacecraft, attempted to perform a soft landing on the surface of the moon.
The landing was meant to take place in the northern region of Mare Serenitatis, which is located within the Serenitatis basin. However, during the breaking procedure just under 500 feet from the surface, a gyroscope failed and a sudden loss of communications with the control center meant the ground crew was unable to reset the component, sending the space probe plummeting into the lunar surface.
“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. “It’s a tremendous achievement up ’til now.”
Beresheet was developed by SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) in a bid to win $20 million in the Google Lunar X Prize competition by being the first privately funded group to put a robot on the moon. In 2018 the contest reached its deadline without any team claiming the prize, however, SpaceIL and IAI continued to work on the Beresheet.
In March 2019 the X Prize Foundation announced SpaceIL could be awarded a $1 million Moonshot Award if the Beresheet mission was a success. The foundation has since announced the funds will still be awarded despite the failed landing. CEO of the X Prize Foundation, Anousheh Ansari said in a statement, “I think they managed to touch the surface of the moon, and that’s what we were looking for for our Moonshot Award.”
Beresheet was launched on February 21, 2019, on a recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket created by Elon Musk’s aerospace company and spent six weeks in earth’s orbit, travelling in widening circles before entering into the moons gravitational pull and orbiting it for a week while preparing for landing.
Beresheet was also carrying a retroreflector device provided by NASA which allows for extremely accurate measurements of the Earth-Moon distance, the Israeli flag, an information package from English Wikipedia, a number of Bibles and drawings created by Israeli children.
On 13 April 2019 two days after Israel came so close to landing their probe on the moon, Israeli billionaire, Morris Kahn, announced plans for a second mission called Beresheet-2.