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The Journal Gazette

Friday, April 12, 2019 1:00 am

Israeli spaceship crashes on moon

Mission fails just before landing

Associated Press

YEHUD, Israel – An Israeli spacecraft lost contact with Earth and crashed just moments before it was to land on the moon late Thursday, failing in an ambitious attempt to make history as the first privately funded lunar mission.

The spacecraft – dubbed Beresheet – lost communication with ground control as it was making its final descent to the moon. Moments later, the mission was declared a failure.

“We definitely crashed on surface of moon,” said Opher Doron, general manager of the space division of Israel Aerospace Industries. He said the spacecraft was in pieces scattered at the planned landing site.

Doron said that the spacecraft's engine turned off shortly before landing. By the time power was restored, he said the craft was moving too fast to land safely. Scientists were still trying to figure out the cause of the failure.

“One of the inertial measurement units failed. And that caused an unfortunate chain of events we're not sure about,” he said. “The engine was turned off. The engine was stopped and the spacecraft crashed. That's all we know.”

The mishap occurred in front of a packed audience that included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and was broadcast live on national television.

The small robotic spacecraft, built by the nonprofit SpaceIL and state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries, had hoped to match a feat that has been achieved only by the national space agencies of three countries: U.S., Russia and China.

The spacecraft hitched a ride on the SpaceX Falcon rocket, launched from Florida in February and followed a 4 million-mile lunar voyage, almost unprecedented in length, that was designed to conserve fuel and reduce price.

“If at first you don't succeed, try try again,” Netanyahu said. He vowed to put an Israeli spacecraft on the moon “intact” in the next two years.

About 20 minutes before the scheduled landing, engine firings slowed Beresheet's descent. Engineers watched in silence as the craft glided toward a free-fall.

But then viewing screens showed the engine misfiring and the velocity surging as it headed toward the lunar surface. Radio signals from the spacecraft abruptly cut off.

Scientists, who were giddy with excitement only seconds earlier, were visibly distraught, and celebrations at viewing centers across the country were dashed.

President Reuven Rivlin hosted dozens of youngsters at his official residence.

“We are full of admiration for the wonderful people who brought the spacecraft to the moon,” Rivlin said.