Next Arrival on the Board at Tel Aviv Airport: The Moon

Apr 11, 2019

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Update: The Beresheet, the Israeli unmanned spacecraft that was expected to make history, did not successfully land on the moon, and has apparently been destroyed just seconds after it looked like it was about to make a safe landing in the Sea of Serenity.

“We have a failure of the spacecraft … we have not landed successfully,” SpaceIL, one of the mission’s partner agencies, said during a livestream in which the video feed cut out just as the spacecraft was about to touch down.

The spacecraft reportedly suffered engine failure and then lost its communications link about 150 meters from the lunar surface before descending too quickly to survive the landing.

Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV) and the Israel Airports Authority appears to have removed the spacecraft’s landing from its arrival schedule. Flyers passing through the airport today had noticed an unusual scheduled landing on the arrivals board: Flight IAI Space, scheduled to land at 10pm, Tel Aviv time. Destination: Moon, Terminal 3.

It was the airport’s way of celebrating the historic moon landing of the unmanned Beresheet spacecraft, which was scheduled to touch down in the Sea of Serenity at 3:05pm Eastern Daylight Time, and was to spend three days on the lunar surface taking photos and conducting scientific experiments. The moon landing was listed on the Israel Airports Authority’s website schedule for April 11 at Ben Gurion, and reportedly on the departures and arrivals board at the airport itself (though it was supposedly coming from and not going to the the moon).


Image courtesy of the Israel Airports Authority.
Image courtesy of the Israel Airports Authority.

Beresheet left Earth from a Florida launchpad on Feb. 21, taking 48 days to reach our planet’s satellite. The mission was a partnership of the nonprofit organization SpaceIL and government-owned Israel Aerospace Industries, and was launched using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It was to be the first privately funded space mission to land on the moon. It would also have made Israel the fourth nation to complete a lunar soft landing  — one that doesn’t destroy the spacecraft — and the only soft landing by a country that isn’t a global power (following the US, Russia and China). The Beresheet was never meant to return to Earth, and its instruments were expected to eventually be destroyed by the heat of the sun without an atmosphere to protect them.

The $100 million spacecraft’s name meant “the beginning” in Hebrew.

The landing was livestreamed on YouTube starting about 6:45pm Israeli time, or 11:45am EDT.

Featured photo by Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

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