scorecardThe world's first private lunar lander just took a selfie with Earth on its way to the moon
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The world's first private lunar lander just took a selfie with Earth on its way to the moon

The world's first private lunar lander just took a selfie with Earth on its way to the moon
LifeScience5 min read

israel moon lunar lander beresheet selfie planet earth space spaceil


A "spacecraft selfie" taken by SpaceIL's Beresheet lunar lander on the way to the moon.

  • Last month SpaceX launched the first private lunar lander toward the moon.
  • The robot is called "Beresheet" (meaning "in the beginning") and was made by SpaceIL, a nonprofit organization based in Israel.
  • Beresheet had some glitches shortly after launch on February 21, but SpaceIL recovered the robot and expects to land it on April 11.
  • On Tuesday, Beresheet took a selfie photo with Earth in the background and a placard that reads "small country, big dreams."
  • If Beresheet survives its weeks-long journey to the moon, Israel will become the fourth country to execute a lunar landing.

Two weeks after SpaceX launched the first private lunar lander toward the moon, the Israeli spacecraft has sent back a stunning selfie of itself with Earth in the background (above).

The dishwasher-size robot is a four-legged lander called "Beresheet," which is Hebrew for "in the beginning" - the first words of the Bible. The $100 million mission is headed by a nonprofit called SpaceIL that is based out of Tel Aviv University and backed primarily by South African billionaire Morris Kahn.

In Beresheet's new selfie photo, which it took from 23,364 miles from Earth on Tuesday, a placard of the Israeli flag is visible that reads "Small country, big dreams."

If the robot successfully touches down on the lunar surface on April 11 as planned, Israel will become the fourth nation in history to pull off a moon landing. But first Beresheet has to close the 239,000-mile gap between Earth and the moon.

"I wanted to show that Israel - this little country with a population of about 6 or 8 million people - could actually do a job that was only done by three major powers in the world: Russia, China, and the United States," Kahn told Business Insider before the launch. "Could Israel innovate and actually achieve this objective with a smaller budget, and being a smaller country, and without a big space industry backing it?"

Read more: SpaceX just launched an Israeli mission toward the moon. If successful, it would be the world's first private lunar landing.

So far, that appears to be the case. But Beresheet has not landed yet, let alone reach lunar orbit.

Computer reboots en route to the moon

spacex falcon 9 rocket night launch sky streak light nusantara satu mission 46259778995_68130be69d_o


SpaceX's Nusantara Satu mission rockets toward space carrying a communications satellite, moon lander, and small military satellite.

Since its launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket on February 21, Beresheet has experienced a number of problems. The first major issue was an onboard computer error. This triggered the system to reboot itself right before a scheduled engine burn, causing it to miss the maneuver.

Read more: SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket booster survived a 'spicy' landing at sea after launching the first private moon mission

The team eventually recovered the spacecraft, though, and got Beresheet back on course to enter orbit around the moon in early April.

"It's quite normal for a new spacecraft to have some teething problems in its first days, and we've overcome them all, so we are quite happy," Opher Doron, a member of the Beresheet mission and the general division manager of Israel Aerospace Industries, said during a briefing. "The moon seems to be getting within reach."

beresheet israeli moon lander robot payload close up spaceil


The "Beresheet" lunar robot designed and built by SpaceIL. If it lands successfully, the robot could make Israel the fourth country ever to softly land on the moon's surface.

The first computer reset and subsequent ones are likely being caused by radiation in deep space, mission managers said Monday, according to Ynetnews.

"There are many things that cannot be tested on Earth - different phenomena that occur in space - and we've ironed them out. Hopefully most of them," Doron said last week. "There will probably be some more surprises along the way, and we'll hopefully manage to deal with them as well."

Beresheet was designed to be relatively small to save on costs. It's about 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide, and 75% of its mass at launch was rocket fuel. As a result, its total journey to reach the moon, enter orbit, and touch down will take about about seven weeks.

The mission cost around $100 million - a fraction of the $469 million that NASA spent in the 1960s on seven similarly sized Surveyor moon landers. NASA's sum would be roughly $3.5 billion today - about $500 million per mission - when adjusting for inflation.

Read more: NASA's first moon landings in nearly 50 years may happen in 2019. The agency thinks these 9 companies can get it to the lunar surface.

The planned landing site for Beresheet is Mare Serenitatis, or the "Sea of Serenity," in the northern hemisphere of the moon. It's a dark lava-covered site of an ancient volcanic eruption. The area is also a source of magnetic and gravitational anomalies, and - in popular culture - the left eye of the "man in the moon."

Because Beresheet needed to be built light, engineers did not include a cooling system. This means the robot will overheat in the blistering sun on the moon after about three days.

Until it overheats, Beresheet will take measurements of the moon's magnetic field using an instrument supplied by the University of California, Los Angeles. SpaceIL plans to share the data it collects with NASA and other space agencies. The spacecraft may also try to "hop" to another location using its thrusters.

Kahn said the scientific mission is not as important as what Beresheet's landing would symbolize.

"This project of ours will take Israel into deep space. I think this is a new frontier and actually what we're doing - this is the first nongovernmental project to go to the moon," Kahn said. "I think others will follow us. In fact, I'm sure others will follow us."