An Israeli spacecraft sent back images of the far side of the moon Friday after the Jewish state became the seventh country to successfully send an object into lunar orbit.
The unmanned Beresheet — which means “Genesis” in Hebrew — began orbiting the moon on Thursday after completing a key maneuver that took it within less than 300 miles of the surface.
If Israel successfully lands the 1,290-pound craft as planned on April 11, it also will be the first time that a privately financed mission has landed there, the Times of Israel reported.
The $100 million spacecraft is a joint venture between the Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries — funded almost completely by private donations from Jewish philanthropists.
In order for the lander to enter into lunar orbit, it had to slow down from 5,280 miles per second to 4,660 miles per second, the orbital equivalent of slamming on the brakes, by turning around so its engines thrust it in the opposite direction.
Thursday was the longest period that engineers turned on the engines since Beresheet’s Feb. 22 launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida atop a used SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The craft will trace smaller and smaller loops around the moon before attempting a landing in the Sea of Serenity.
“There is a significant chance we have a crash landing,” said Opher Doron, the space division general manager at Israel Aerospace Industries. “It’s very dangerous, and it’s difficult to predict if we’ll succeed.”
If successful, the spacecraft is expected to perform two or three days of experiments before it shuts down and joins about 400,000 pounds — at Earth weight — of human-made debris strewn across the moon’s surface, including the remnants of the Apollo missions.
The US, Russia (as the USSR), Japan, China, the European Space Agency and India have all visited the moon via probes, though only the US, Russia and China have successfully landed.
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