Update: 3:35 pm: The lander failed and crashed into the surface. With only seconds before touchdown, the spacecraft suffered a problem with the main engine followed by a communications failure. A few minutes later, mission control confirmed that the lander indeed crashed into the moon’s surface.
“Well, we didn’t make it,” said board member Morris Kahn, “but we definitely tried. And I think the achievement of getting to where we got is really tremendous. I think we can be proud.”
The team did manage to capture a great lunar selfie only 22km from the surface:
If everything goes according to plan today, an uncrewed spacecraft will land on the moon. Launched by Israeli company SpaceIL in February, the Beresheet lander has spent the last two months manoeuvring into a lunar orbit in preparation for its landing. The craft will make a landing attempt at 3:25 pm EDT on Thursday.
SpaceIL originally developed the Beresheet lander as part of Google’s Lunar XPrize, which challenged companies to put a craft on the Moon without help from any government agencies. Originally, the deadline for the prize was 2014, but that date was pushed back multiple times until 2018.
In March of last year, XPrize decided it would cancel the prize rather than delay it again, but SpaceIL kept pursuing their goal. Now, over a year later, the team is finally in position to do what it initially set out to do.
If the company is successful, it will become the first private company in history to land a craft on the moon. Only three countries have accomplished the same feat—China, the United States, and the Soviet Union—and all have done it with multibillion-dollar budgets and thousands of dedicated scientists and engineers. SpaceIL is a small nonprofit with a budget of about $100 million, nearly all raised by private donors.
SpaceIL stands to change the face of space exploration by proving that it’s possible for a small company to send a craft to a different world. After today, the moon will be within reach for any private company with enough funding and determination.
Soon, we might even see private missions to Mars, far-flung asteroids, and beyond.
Originally published on Popular Mechanics