Israel’s first moon mission spacecraft has dibs on the ‘Best Selfie in the World’

An Israeli spacecraft has captured an exceptional selfie on its roundabout journey to the moon. If successful, this mission would make it the fourth nation in the world to successfully execute a lunar landing.

of the privately funded mission released the photograph on Tuesday, February 5, 2019, over a week after its launch, which shows the spacecraft, Beresheet, with the entire Earth as the stunning backdrop. Australia easily stands out. A plaque, according to Haaretz reads: “Small Country, Big Dreams” and “The people of Israel live.”

Space report

A Falcon 9 launched the Nusantara Satu satellite into orbit from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40), carrying Israel’s Beresheet spacecraft. It rocketed from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on February 21 and is expected to land on the moon on April 11.

The spacecraft, named after the Hebrew word for Genesis, has been circling Earth in ever bigger loops and is currently orbiting some 37,600 away. On its winding journey, Beresheet is to slingshot around the Earth at least six times.

Despite some early problems involving a technical glitch which cancelled a planned , Beresheet should be close enough to enter lunar orbit in early April.

Its landing site will be on the northern hemisphere of the moon in what’s known as the Sea of Tranquility, the same general area as the Apollo 11 landing site. It’s where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are believed to have taken took their first moon walk in 1969, planting an American flag and their footprints onto the lunar surface. 

Aldrin even tweeted a congratulatory message on the occasion of Beresheet’s take-off.

A touchdown would make Israel the fourth country to pull off a moon landing, after the US, Russia, and China. It will come just months before Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu seeks re-election for his fourth consecutive term.

Political move, private funding

Aggressively campaigning for a return to power, Netanyahu is currently beleaguered with multiple corruption charges for which he has deposed several times over the last three years. Last week, Israel’s attorney general Avichai Mandelblit announced his intention to indict the PM, for allegedly relaxing regulatory norms for a telecom firm in exchange for positive media coverage before the 2015 elections.

Another noteworthy facet of this mission is that it is being funded by private organisations, unlike national bodies ISRO and NASA, which conduct India and the US’s space exploration.

SpaceIL, in collaboration with Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. is behind Israel’s maiden lunar expedition. According to their website, SpaceIL—a non-profit organisation established in 2011 aiming to land the first Israeli spacecraft on the Moon—is actively working to create an Israeli “Apollo Effect.” The organisation was founded by three young engineers: Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari, and Yonatan Winetraub.

China’s Chang’e-4 probe which marked a landmark moment for lunar exploration worldwide by landing on the far side of the moon, was also spearheaded by China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation. The China National Space Administration was closely associated with the development of the mission as well, in keeping with the Asian nation’s ambitious space programme in mind.

Read more: Chinese probe makes historic landing on the far side of the moon

Such , often funded by foreign corporations, help in propelling the dreams of space exploration for countries which normally lack the resources to do so. In this case, however, considering that Beresheet lifted off from Florida, there is a compelling argument to be made regarding Israel’s relations with the US, its strongest and perhaps only ally in the west. The prospective moon landing stands to be a major accomplishment for Israel.

Why this matters to you

This brings us to the not-so-distant concept of space by superpowers.

India is already ahead of many developed countries in economic terms and with respect to her manufacturing  and has been planning rapid expansion in science, technology,  . Among ISRO’s primary missions for 2019 is the Chandrayaan-2, expected to be launched by March.

Costing approximately Rs 800 crore, India’s second lunar mission comes more than ten years after the nation went up to the lunar orbit in November 2008 after the launch of Chandrayaan-1 from Andhra Pradesh’s Sriharikota.

Weighing 3,890 kg, the Chandrayaan-2 will be launched onboard the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mk-3. Chandrayaan-2 will orbit the moon and assess its lunar conditions to collect data on its conditions, minerals, and exosphere.

If all goes according to plan, for the first time, India will have a rover landing on the moon, making it the fifth country in the world to do so. 

Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius

ChandrayaanIsraelISROMoon missionNASAspace explorationSpaceIL