An unmanned Israeli spacecraft will on Friday morning be launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with the main target of embarking on the country’s first-ever mission to the moon.
If “Beresheet” (Genesis) reaches its destination, Israel will become the fourth country to soft-land a spacecraft on the moon after the U.S., the former Soviet Union and China.
The launch is the fruit of an eight-year-long project undertaken by the SpaceIL, a non-profit organization, and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).
The small probe will be carried by a Falcon 9 rocket from Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.
The spacecraft will carry a time capsule with hundreds of digital files, including a coin-sized Hebrew Bible and details about SpaceIL, Israeli national symbols, cultural items, and materials collected by the public over the years.
The spacecraft weighs 585 kilograms and is 1.535 metres high, roughly the size of a washing machine.
It is due to land on the moon on April 11.
“On Friday morning, we will make history,” SpaceIL Chief Executive, Ido Antebbe, said on Monday at a news conference just outside Tel Aviv.
The spacecraft is set to launch at 03:45 am on Friday (0145 GMT).
He said the “whole world will be watching,” particularly as this is the first “commercial launch” to the moon.
The project is the brainchild of three young engineers who came up with the idea over beers in a local pub in the central Israeli city of Holon.
The costs of the 100-million-dollar project were mainly carried by private donors.
South African-Israeli entrepreneur and President of SpaceIL, Morris Kahn, donated and raised a large part of the money to fund the initiative.
The 88-year-old billionaire said when he began approaching donors to support the project, “they thought I’d lost my marbles.”
“It was very difficult to raise money. It was really a mission impossible. The thing is, I didn’t really think it was impossible and neither did the three engineers who started this project,” he added.
The project’s leaders noted that this is the first lunar mission of a small country to the moon and the smallest spacecraft ever to be sent there.
They also said it was the first non-governmental mission to the moon although the IAI is a governmental organization while the funds were largely raised independently.
Upon its landing, the spacecraft, carrying the Israeli flag, would begin taking photos and video of the landing site and would measure the moon’s magnetic field as part of a scientific experiment conducted in collaboration with the Weizmann Institute of Science.
The data would also be transmitted to NASA for research on how the moon was created.