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first lunar lander

Israel’s first lunar lander launched into space from Florida

A used SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched an Israeli moon landeralong with an Indonesian communications satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida tonight (Feb. 21). After deploying its two payloads into orbit, the Falcon 9’s first stage returned to Earth and aced a landing (the third for this booster) on SpaceX’s drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You,” which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

Although the primary payload for this mission was Indonesia’s satellite, named Nusantara Satu, the tiny moon lander that hitched a ride with the satellite as a secondary payload stole the show today. It became not only the first Israeli spacecraft to venture beyond Earth’s orbit, but also the first-ever privately funded moon mission.

Beresheet: Israel’s 1st moonshot

The lander, named Beresheet (meaning “in the beginning” in Hebrew), was built by the Israeli nonprofit organization SpaceIL, which began working on this mission in 2011 as a contestant in the Google Lunar X Prize. That international competition offered $30 million to whichever privately funded team could land a robotic spacecraft on the moon.

Beresheet will spend seven weeks making its way to the moon, swinging by Earth a few times and using our planet’s gravity to build the momentum it needs to get to its destination. If Beresheet successfully executes a soft landing on the lunar surface, Israel will become the fourth nation to achieve such a landing on the moon, following in the footsteps of the world’s “space superpowers” — the United States, Russia and China.

The first soft landing on the moon was achieved by the Soviet Union’s Luna 9 spacecraft in 1966. NASA’s Surveyor 1 spacecraft touched down on the lunar surface later that year. China joined the scene in 2013 with its Chang’e 3 lander and Yutu rover.

“Nusantara Satu is Indonesia’s first high-throughput satellite that will serve to improve internet connectivity in the region,” SpaceX officials said in a statement. “Additionally, the satellite’s C-band and Ku-band transponders will be used for voice and data communications and video distribution throughout the Indonesian archipelago.

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