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Israeli Spacecraft Makes History with Successful Moon Launch

2019-2-22

An Israeli spacecraft is on its way to the moon.

The unmanned moon landing vehicle was launched Thursday night from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in the United States.

The private U.S. company SpaceX manufactured the Falcon 9 rocket that sent the Israeli spacecraft into the night sky. In addition to the robotic lander, the Falcon 9 also carried two satellites into space: one for Indonesia and the other for the U.S. Air Force.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu watched the launch from the control center of Israel Aerospace Industries, or IAI. He called it “a very proud moment” for his country.

Israel is seeking to become only the fourth country to successfully land on the moon after Russia, the U.S. and China. The four-legged lunar lander is expected to arrive there in seven weeks. If all goes well, the landing will happen around April 11.

The spacecraft is called Beresheet, which is the Hebrew word for Genesis, or “In the Beginning.” The lander is equipped with instruments to measure the moon’s magnetic field and take pictures on the lunar surface.

The SpaceIL lunar module, an unmanned spacecraft, is on display in a special
The SpaceIL lunar module, an unmanned spacecraft, is on display in a special "clean room" where the space craft is being developed, during a press tour of their facility near Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

In addition to being a first for Israel, Beresheet would also mark the first moon landing by a non-government agency. Officials have said the $100 million project was mostly paid for by private donors.

Israeli nonprofit space organization SpaceIL worked together with state-owned IAI to build the 580-kilogram spacecraft.

An official from IAI said Beresheet is the lowest-cost spacecraft to ever attempt a moon mission. “The superpowers who managed to land a spacecraft on the Moon have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding," the official said.

China made history in January by becoming the first nation to land a spacecraft on the dark side of the moon – the side facing away from Earth.

India hopes to become the fifth country to land on the moon later this year. It plans to send a spacecraft that will have an exploring vehicle designed to collect moon information.

In other space-related news, a Japanese spacecraft touched down Friday on an asteroid more than 300 million kilometers away from Earth.

Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency said its Hayabusa 2 spacecraft successfully landed on the asteroid Ryugu. Officials said the device extended a long arm toward the asteroid and fired a small object into its surface. The firing action was designed to produce dust that will be collected and brought back to Earth for examination.

It was the second Japanese landing on an asteroid after another spacecraft, also called Hayabusa, touched down on a near-Earth asteroid in 2005. That spacecraft was the first to bring asteroid dust back to Earth.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English. His story was based on reports from the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

proud – adj. much pleased; feeling very good about someone or something

mission n. an important task, usually involving travel somewhere

asteroid n. any one of thousands of small planets that circle around the sun