Israeli start-up aims to put first private space probe on the moon


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By Corey S. Powell

Beresheet is the first word of the Hebrew Bible, meaning “in the beginning.” It’s also the apt name of the robotic lander that an Israeli start-up is planning to launch to the moon on Feb. 21.

If the mission succeeds, Beresheet will be the first Israeli spacecraft to travel beyond Earth orbit and the first private lander on the moon. The mission could also mark the beginning of a new spaceflight era — one in which companies go where previously only nations have gone.

John Horack, an aerospace engineer at Ohio State University and a spaceflight expert, is giddy at the possibilities. “Nothing like this has been tried before,” he says. “We’re looking at an entirely new model for space exploration beyond Earth orbit.”

From its funding to its engineering to its modest size (Beresheet is about the size of commercial refrigerator), almost everything about the Israeli probe goes against tradition. Its inspiration sprang not from a government program but from the Google Lunar XPrize, an “American Idol”-like competition that promised $30 million to any private team that could put a lander on the moon, have it travel 500 meters (about 1,600 feet) and send back photos and video documenting its journey.

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