YEHUD, Israel (AP) – An Israeli spacecraft crashed on the moon moments before landing, failing in an ambitious attempt to write the story Thursday as the first landing lunar financed by private funds.
The satellite lost communication with ground control during its final descent. Moments later, the mission was declared a failure.
"We have definitely crashed to the surface of the moon," said Opher Doron of Israel Aerospace Industries.
He added that the engine of the aircraft had been shut down shortly before landing and that scientists were still trying to determine the cause. The spacecraft, called Beresheet, was in scattered pieces at the landing site, he said.
Doron nevertheless described the mission as "incredible success" for reaching the moon and so close to the successful landing.
"It's by far the smallest and cheapest spacecraft to reach the moon," he said. Beresheet was about the size of a washing machine.
The accident occurred in front of a large audience, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and was broadcast live on national television.
"We will try again," said Netanyahu. "We have reached the moon, but we want to land more comfortably, and it will be for next time."
It had been hoped that the small robotic spacecraft built by SpaceIL, a non-profit organization, and by Israel, a state-owned state-owned company, would live up to a feat accomplished solely by states United States, Russia and China.
This failure was a disappointing end to a lunar journey of 6.5 million kilometers (4 million kilometers), of almost unprecedented length, designed to save fuel and reduce prices. The spacecraft borrowed a SpaceX rocket launched in Florida in February.
In the last two months, Beresheet, which means "Genesis" or "In the beginning", has traveled the Earth several times before entering the lunar orbit.
About 20 minutes before the scheduled landing, engine ignitions slowed down Beresheet descent. Engineers silently observed that the craft, its live movements on dozens of screens, were sliding towards a free fall.
But then the screens showed that the engine was failing and the speed was increasing as it was heading towards the lunar surface. The radio signals from the space shuttle were abruptly cut off.
Standing in front of darkened computer screens, the controllers said the mission was a failure. The craft crashed near Apollo 's historic landing sites.
President Reuven Rivlin has hosted dozens of young people at his official residence, one of many planned celebrations across the country. The children, some wearing white and blue overalls, seemed confused as the accident unfolded.
"We are full of admiration for the great people who brought the spacecraft to the moon," Rivlin said. "It's true, not as we had hoped, but we will succeed in the end."
Beresheet carried a small NASA laser retroreflector for measuring magnetic fields and providing information about the iron core of the moon. There was also a time capsule containing a Bible, Israeli cultural symbols and a photo of the famous Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died in the crash of the American Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003.
NASA Chief Jim Bridenstine said he regretted that the mission was not successful, but "I have no doubt that Israel and SpaceIL will continue to explore and I have look forward to celebrating their future achievements. "
Buzz Aldrin, walker on the moon of Apollo 11, expressed his regret "for what was almost" and tweeted: "Never lose hope – Your hard work, your team work and the innovation are a source of inspiration for all! "
The Google Lunar X Prize contest, which offered $ 20 million to the first privately funded company to visit the moon, is what prompted SpaceIL to get Beresheet off the ground.
Beresheet made the final cut, but after several extra timeouts, the contest ended last year without a winner.
SpaceIL has pursued its dream, convinced that this mission would help inspire the next generation of Israel to study science and engineering. This $ 100 million mission was funded largely by Israeli billionaire Morris Kahn and a handful of other investors.
"As soon as I heard their dream, I wanted to support it," Kahn said. "I knew it would give us a sense of pride in Israel."
The XPrize Foundation congratulated the SpaceIL team despite the missing landing.
"We are extremely proud to have succeeded so far," said Peter Diamandis, founder of XPrize.
Spacecraft are breaking more on other planets than on the moon, but the moon has already seen failed missions, said American university professor Howard McCurdy, author of several books on the moon. space.
In the 1960s, before the Apollo lunar landings, NASA had sent seven unmanned Surveyor flights to the moon and two had failed, he said.
"What makes things difficult are the conditions – the geological and atmospheric conditions are different on the Moon and on the planets, relative to the Earth," said McCurdy. "It really makes it difficult to test" the landing of the probe on Earth.
Phil Larson of the University of Colorado, who was space advisor at the Obama White House, said the Israeli effort emphasized that "space is always extremely difficult, and landing man-made objects on other worlds is a daunting task. "
But, he added, "Even if he has not managed to land, it is an innovative and revolutionary project overall."