A team of Israeli scientists will launch this week the first privately funded mission to land on the moon, sending a spacecraft to collect data from the lunar surface.
Named Beresheet, the Hebrew word for Genesis, the 585 kg LG robot will take off from Florida at 01:45 GMT on Friday, propelled by one of Elon Musk's SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets. Once he touches the ground, in a few weeks, he will measure the magnetic field of the moon to help understand how it is formed.
Beresheet will also file a "time capsule" of digital size files of pieces containing the Bible, children's drawings, the national anthem of Israel and the blue and white flag, as well as the memories of a Holocaust survivor.
"We are going to live on the moon forever," said Yonatan Weintraub, co-founder of SpaceIL, the non-profit organization behind the project.
Although it is not a government initiative, the state-owned company, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), has joined the group as a partner. If the mission succeeds, Israel will become the fourth country, after Russia, the United States and China, to reach the moon.
"It's the lowest-budget space vehicle for such a mission," says the IAI about the £ 77m project. "The superpowers that have managed to land a spacecraft on the moon have spent hundreds of millions of dollars," he adds. Even though it was a private company, Beresheet was a "national and historical feat".
Crew travel on the Moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s took about three days, but the spacecraft will take a less direct route. It will first move on ever larger elliptical orbits around the Earth until it intercepts the gravitational pull of the moon. Its creators felt it would land on April 11th.
SpaceIL was created in 2011 to win the Google Lunar XPrize, which provides a $ 30 million award to a privately funded team to land on a satellite in an automated spacecraft, travel 500 meters and transmit images to Earth.
Although the contest ended without a winner, SpaceIL decided to continue and raise funds elsewhere. Morris Kahn, an Israeli billionaire born in South Africa, is the main supporter, but SpaceIL said the US Republican party and pro-Israel financier Miriam Adelson and her husband, Sheldon, owner of a casino, had given $ 24 million.
Russia was the first country to make a soft landing on the moon's surface, rather than a crash, on the moon's surface in 1966. But after the end of the race to space in the 1970s, there was no return until China sent a lander in 2013. In January of this year, Beijing made history by landing a spacecraft away from the moon.
While Mars remains a distant and difficult prospect, lunar visits are generating renewed interest. Later in 2019, two more lunar missions are planned, a rover made by India and another Chinese lander.
The Trump administration has made the escape of humans to the moon a top priority, while NASA is increasingly using private companies to help reduce its costs. A US-led project to build a small space station with a crew orbiting the moon is underway, and NASA has asked the commercial sector to bid to manufacture this technology.