Israeli spacecraft fails in attempted moon landing
With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a throng of dignitaries and well-wishers looking on, a small Israeli spacecraft attempted to pull off the first privately-funded non-superpower moon landing Thursday, but the lander apparently crashed to the surface after engine trouble and communications glitches during the final descent.
“We had a failure in the spacecraft,” said Opher Doron, general manager of Israel Aerospace Industries space division, builder of the Beresheet lunar lander. “We unfortunately have not managed to land successfully.”It was not immediately known what went wrong. The descent, from an altitude of about 15 miles, began on time just after 3 p.m. EDT. At that point, the spacecraft was about 500 miles from the intended landing site on a broad plain known as Mare Serenitatis.
Computer displays in the mission control room in Israel showed Beresheet’s thrusters and main engine firing as expected to lower the craft’s altitude and slow its forward velocity. The descent appeared to be going smoothly when Doron reported a problem with the craft’s inertial measurement unit.A few moments later, telemetry apparently dropped out. It came back a few moments after that, but problems with the main engine developed and after an uncertain pause, Doron reported the spacecraft was lost.”You win some, you lose some,” said Morris Kahn, president of SpaceIL, the non-profit formed to turn the dream of a commercial moon flight into reality.”If at first you don’t succeed, you try again,” Netanyahu said.Israel had aimed to become only the fourth nation, after the United States, the former Soviet Union and China, to send a spacecraft to a soft landing on the moon. SpaceIL intended the project to generate national pride and inspire Israeli students to pursue STEM educations and careers.Even though the landing failed, mission managers said the nation should still be proud.”We are the seventh country to orbit the moon and the fourth to reach the moon’s surface,” Doron said. “It’s a tremendous achievement up to now.”Said Kahn: “Well, we didn’t make it, but we definitely tried. And I think the achievement of getting to where we got is really tremendous. I think we can be proud.”